Punish conduct, not thought
written by Bill:
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There’s a phrase that has begun to bother me more every time I hear it.
heard it during the debate over health care reform in Washington, in the context of scolding critics of President Obama’s proposals.
Those who were using words like “socialist” or “socialized medicine” or “government takeover” were edging into hateful territory.
And when language such as ‘Un-American” or “unpatriotic” entered into the argument … well, that was just coded racism.
civil rights pioneer Congressman John Lewis and other African American lawmakers were taunted by a protester with the N-word, that
was called hate speech. Likewise, when openly gay Congressman Barney Frank was called the fa-word, that was widely called hate speech.
both Democrat and Republican legislators received nasty, profane calls and emails — some deemed threatening — those were called hate
Recently, we had strong reader reaction and comments on our website when my paper ran a story
about Latinos rallying for immigration reform at the office of our congresswoman, Rep. Tammy Baldwin.
angry responses were … you guessed it … called hate speech, by some.
On a journalism trade blog I read about a college columnist who
questioned the judgment of a female student who reported “date rape” following a bout of heavy drinking and, well, fraternizing, at
a frat party. The column set off a campus uproar and was, yep, repeatedly called hate speech.
back I participated in a free-speech panel discussion on a Wisconsin college campus, which essentially asked the question of whether
offensive remarks constituted hate speech and should be punishable. Before the panel could come to any conclusions — indeed, before
some of us, including me, could even speak — the session was interrupted by student protesters who were, far as I could tell, aspiring
to make being offended a professional goal.
All of this offends me.
will not come as a surprise that a newspaper editor is a free-speech absolutist. To me, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution
is sacred. From that amendment flows all the other freedoms Americans enjoy.
Not that I refuse to draw
any lines. As the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, one cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater with impunity.
Likewise, providing porn to kids is a crime. Libel and defamation laws deal with malicious falsehoods.
the growing notion that people, somehow, ought to have a right not to be offended is, in my view, indefensible.
the first place, who defines what is offensive? I’m offended when I see some fool walking around with a tee-shirt emblazoned with
the f-bomb. I’m offended when a protester burns a flag. I’m offended when I get behind a car with a suggestive or profane bumper sticker.
I’m offended when I’m walking around a mall or park with my kids or grandkids and others we encounter can’t resist loudly peppering
their conversations with obscenities.
Mind you, my argument isn’t with the idea that in our multicultural
society people should be sensitive to one another. It’s only good manners to address all people with respect.
First Amendment, however, does not require that. Individuals or groups do not have a legal right to avoid being offended. Rude, crude
language, including name-calling, is not necessarily “hate speech,” which suggests some sort of legal standing.
truly, is what I fear, as a First Amendment absolutist. America has criminalized “hate crimes,” though in my mind a murder victim
is jut as dead no matter the motivations of the killer. Universities have adopted speech codes providing punishment for offending
others’ sensitive ears. It’s a short walk from there to the criminalization of “hate speech.”
punishing conduct, not thought.
You can hate me if you want. You can offend me if you want. You can call
me names and angrily question my ancestry — trust me, I’ve had readers do just that. No crime; no harm done.
you can’t call me names AND throw a rock at my head. You’ll be arrested for your CONDUCT.
And if you
call my mother a bad name and I break your nose, I will be arrested for my conduct. I probably wouldn’t even mind paying the fine.
let’s lay off this wimpy business of calling out everybody for “hate speech.” That’s not America. In a free society everybody has
the right to be heard. Even the jerks. In fact, if we’re going to uphold free speech, the most important part is allowing jerks to
be heard. If the only speech that’s free is that with which we agree, don’t call it free.