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Why America must never adopt hate speech laws


“We should dare not trust a definition of human dignity from a government that cannot first define human anatomy.”

Hate speech laws are perhaps the easiest way for the U.S. government to censor, compel, and ultimately criminalize its citizens. 

Indeed, states have been compelling and restricting speech already using laws that themselves don’t even compel or restrict speech. Imagine the lengths of government oppression with laws that do compel or restrict speech. Thankfully the Supreme Court has ruled in line with the First Amendment, at the detriment of the Biden administration. But the fact that the Court has had to intervene at all should be concerning.

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Fundamentally, opposition to hate speech laws rests in the inevitable greasing of America’s present slippery slope of censorship. We should not trust the government’s ability to hold the line of regulation at hate speech. Additionally, opposition to hate speech laws in America is out of fear of how legislators will loosely define hate. 

Internationally speaking, hate speech laws are rooted in a defense of human dignity; some countries call these dignity laws. So, to establish hate speech laws would require the definition of human dignity. That’s where things get scary in respect to American government. 

We should dare not trust a definition of human dignity from a government that cannot first define human anatomy. Indeed, if the United States were to adopt dignity laws, human dignity would be defined by those who cannot distinguish between a man and a woman. In fact, many American legislators would consider my last two statements to be a violation of human dignity. Even if dignity laws were considered good in general, America is certainly not in an intellectual posture to handle such an arsenal of legal ambiguity.

America must maintain its liberty-based full-fledged protection of free speech–including hate speech.

Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, describes free speech as, 

“The ability to say, write, or otherwise express ideas and beliefs without facing punishment or retaliation from the government. From verbal speech to artistic creation to words on clothing to flying a flag, free speech comes in many forms. Free speech not only entails a right to think or express what you want in the privacy of your own mind or home. To be able to live freely in accordance with your beliefs, you must be able to express those beliefs in public.” 

But can’t all of the free speech descriptions mentioned above coexist with hate speech laws? 

Don’t hate speech laws allow for the freedom of speech just without racial slurs and needless immoral hollering? 

In theory, yes. Hungary, for example, is known for allowing free as defined above but also has dignity laws that are widely supported among Hungarians, both liberal and conservative. But America is a different story, and we should not give nearly the trust to our government that other countries may have the luxury of giving.

The fear of a slippery slope is not fear-mongering, it’s historically proven

Sadly, even in the last decade, a historic precedent for government overreach and abuse has been on full display. What’s worse is that states have tried to compel or restrict speech using laws that don’t even compel or restrict speech. 

Literally, case in point: 303 Creative vs. Elenis. This landmark free speech case ruled that applying public accommodation laws (anti-discrimination laws) to compel or restrict speech violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment. It’s imperative to note that the Supreme Court did not strike down the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA), but rather ruled that states could not apply the laws to censor or force speech. See, the CADA, like many state anti-discrimination laws, does not include any language that says, for example, “a graphic designer must create all expressive designs requested of them, even if the design violates their conscience or religious convictions.” And yet, with Colorado and several other states, that’s exactly how the government was applying the law. 

Why is this important? The above example proves that slippery slope forces are already at work, even if the Supreme Court stopped them for the time being. But any government that forces or prohibits speech using laws that don’t even do that is not a government to be trusted with laws that do compel or restrict speech. Such laws would be a steroid shot in their already censor/compelling-happy agenda. 

The government shouldn’t be trusted to define hate

Political agendas should have no bearing on defining terms. However, only immense naivety would expect such legislative decency. While conservatism holds more objectivity in their definitions of hate, influential leftist entities such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have an entire map identifying organizations deemed “hate groups” in America. You don’t have to partner with the KKK to be called a hate group by the SPLC. Many groups on SPLCs hate list are essentially non-hateful conservative organizations that hold to biblical principles. The SPLC is a highly influential law group deep in the roots of many Democrat circles. 

Circling back to 303 Creative, which ultimately protected everyone including the LGBT community, President Biden called the Court’s ruling “disappointing” and said it “weakens long-standing laws that protect all Americans against discrimination in public accommodations — including people of color, people with disabilities, people of faith, and women.” Biden further noted his intent to reverse the impacts of this case.

No, Mr. President, this ruling literally does the opposite of your concern. This ruling protects everyone you just mentioned from being forced to communicate in a way they disagree with.

Consider Justice Gorsuch’s opinion from 303 Creative:

“Consider what a contrary approach would mean. Under Colorado’s logic, the government may compel anyone who speaks for pay on a given topic to accept all commissions on that same topic — no matter the underlying message — if the topic somehow implicates a customer’s statutorily protected trait. Taken seriously, that principle would allow the government to force all manner of artists, speechwriters, and others whose services involve speech to speak what they do not believe on pain of penalty. The government could require ‘an unwilling Muslim movie director to make a film with a Zionist message,’ or ‘an atheist muralist to accept a commission celebrating Evangelical zeal,’ so long as they would make films or murals for other members of the public with different messages. Equally, the government could force a male website designer married to another man to design websites for an organization that advocates against same-sex marriage. Countless other creative professionals, too, could be forced to choose between remaining silent, producing speech that violates their beliefs, or speaking their minds and incurring sanctions for doing so. As our precedents recognize, the First Amendment tolerates none of that.”

Protecting everyone is not hateful. Forcing everyone, including the LGBT community, to communicate in a way that violates their conscience is hateful. Biden, and the larger liberal community, want the latter to be law. 

This article shouldn’t be seen as a pro-conservatism piece. This is a pro-free speech case. There are many conservatives that still want blasphemy laws and moral censorship to be law. To be fair, those are important conversations to have, given we are a country that celebrates culturally collective decisions about how society runs. But fundamentally, if speech is compromised, everything is compromised. While it is wishful that we have a morally sound stream of speech throughout the United States, we are simply not in a posture to expect, nor should we promote, any ideas that would allow less speech. 

More speech allows more ideas, dissent, and the living out of personal convictions. More speech also works against censoring agendas from our government. 

John Wesley Reid is a senior fellow with the Budapest Fellowship Program at the Hungary-based Mathias Corvinus Collegium School of Law. John is a U.S. Marine veteran, former firefighter, and spent six years in Washington D.C. in various media capacities with a focus on abortion, free speech, and the Supreme Court. 

Before moving to Budapest, Hungary, John’s tenure in D.C. included the roles of editor-in-chief for Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center, digital media director for Family Research Council, and social media news producer for CBN News. He’s an avid gun collector and an alumni of Biola University and Hillsdale College’s James Madison Fellowship.

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