A former Time editor claimed that the United States needs a law banning hate speech, and that President Donald Trump “might be in violation of it” if there were one — because, apparently, he doesn’t notice the irony of holding both of these views at once.
In a Tuesday tweet promoting his Washington Post piece, titled “Why America needs a hate speech law,” Richard Stengel stated:
My @WashingtonPost piece on why the very broadness of the First Amendment suggests we should have a hate speech law. And if we did, why the President might be in violation of it. https://t.co/3ybv3kC69f
— Richard Stengel (@stengel) October 29, 2019
In the piece, Stengel writes that “many nations have passed laws to curb the incitement of racial and religious hatred” in the wake of World War II:
These laws started out as protections against the kinds of anti-Semitic bigotry that gave rise to the Holocaust. We call them hate speech laws, but there’s no agreed-upon definition of what hate speech actually is. In general, hate speech is speech that attacks and insults people on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin and sexual orientation.
“I’m all for protecting ‘thought that we hate,’ but not speech that incites hate,” he continues. “It undermines the very values of a fair marketplace of ideas that the First Amendment is designed to protect.”
It’s interesting how Stengel actually does acknowledge the fact that “there’s no agreed-upon definition of what hate speech actually is,” and yet he still wants laws banning it. This makes absolutely no sense. After all, when he calls for laws to ban “hate speech,” he is, inherently, giving the government the power to decide what would and would not qualify — the exact same government that is led by Donald Trump, and that is full of people who support him.
In other words: Stengel somehow trusts that the government will have the same view of “hate speech” as he does, and then, in the same thought, seems to acknowledge that there’s actually no way that many of them would. Unless he thinks that the president and his congressional supporters would actually pass a law that they’d be in violation of, his argument for “hate speech” laws winds up being a pretty great argument against them.
It’s ironic, but it’s not new: More often than not, it’s the uber-progressives arguing for laws against “hate speech” — despite the fact that they’re often the same people who are also arguing that Donald Trump and Republicans are constantly spewing it. Maybe it’s just me, but if I thought that the leader of my government was, you know, literally Hitler or whatever, the last thing that I’d want would be to give that person and their supporters control over my speech.
Yes, the First Amendment gives us the right to be “offensive” with our speech. Given the fact that a new thing seems to be declared “racist” or “sexist” every day, I’m certainly glad that we do have this protection. After all, it would only take there being a few too many of the “super woke” in our government for a phrase like “you guys” to become a criminal offense.
The truth is, though, the right to be “offensive” (however you define that subjective term, anyway) is not even the most important role that our First Amendment plays. No, what’s most important is that it protects our right to speak out against the government when we see fit — without having to worry about its retaliation. Like it or not, the only way to ensure that we retain this important check on government power is to never (ever) give its leaders a vehicle take it away.