Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Open Letter to Lunch Lady: Hate Speech vs. Freedom of Speech

Hi Lunch Lady!
Welcome to Momma Politico, and thanks for your kind words and for taking the time to read my blog. As promised, here is my response to your question as to where my stand is on hate speech. Thanks for giving me time to respond.It's summer vacation, and, for once, I've got plenty of time! Forgive the formatting, as Blogger is being a bit stubborn today, so two fonts may have to live in peace together on the same page in order to get this letter out to you.

Hate speech is a terrifying, horrifying thing. And Buchanan is a classic hater. So, where do we draw the line? Helluva big question for a tiny blog like mine! But I will try to tackle it nonetheless. Please keep in mind I am no Constitutional scholar, just a momma, elementary school teacher and blogger, in that order.

The Supreme Court has been more than hesitant to ban any form of speech or expression because any limits create implicit limits on other forms of speech. This has been brought forth repeatedly in many unanimous decisions. Other countries, such as Canada and Australia, have several "Hate Speech" statutes on the books with which they appear to struggle back and forth in the courts. So the U.S. is unique in its defense of freedom of speech under a vast array of circumstances. We Americans, in a longstanding tradition, truly believe in individual freedoms above all else.
I want to make it very clear that I do not condone hate speech of any sort. I find it abhorrent to hear the statements Buchanan makes. I despise his beliefs and, terrifyingly, I don't think they come from ignorance. I believe they are a deliberate manipulation, an attempt to stir up racial unrest to promote the agenda of the Republican Party. Having said that, I also believe it is a slippery slope once we begin to censor speech. This is especially true with a conservative court on the bench.

Over the last administration, we saw many of our civil liberties disappear under the guise of “keeping America safe.” Reading the email and listening to the calls of ordinary Americans, search and seizure without a court order, or without you even knowing they’ve been to your house are only some of the ways our Bill of Rights has been compromised. And with the demise of The Fourth Estate, it makes me wonder how long the remaining rights we have will last. Fear seems to work wonders toward causing complacency.

The way I see it, the reason I have the right to go off on the GOP on my blog is because a lot of other crackpots out there have the right to express their opinions, too, no matter how foul they may be. If you’ve been reading me long, you know that I will call such hate speech to the carpet when I hear it. I believe that there is a bigger problem than the speech that comes out of someone’s mouth, however, and that’s the ideas that produce them. And the only way to change that is to educate the ignorant, or to point out the wrongs when we hear them. Would I condone a hate group holding a rally in my neighborhood? Hell, no. Would I take my signs and fellow liberal friends and hold a protest at their gathering? Hell, yes, because I have as much right to do so as they have to assemble. We all have a constitutional obligation to point out bigotry and hate speech where we see it. We must file harassment suits when it is appropriate to do so. It is imperative that we educate the public against such bigotry as Buchanan fosters. But without losing my own right to free speech, I don’t see how to draw the line between free speech and censorship. Education, calling to the carpet, and publicizing bigotry are our strongest tools against its existence.

There is very little, save my family and faith, that are as precious to me as our rights as American citizens, as spelled out in The Bill of Rights. But America is advanced citizenship. It’s difficult. It’s a challenge. To own your own rights, you have to be willing to allow the same rights to the Coulters of the world. And that isn’t always an easy thing to do. Now when language becomes a threat, appropriate legal measures should be taken. The old standard of yelling “Fire” in a public theatre presents a clear and present threat. But we must be careful as to what is deemed a threat so as not to find ourselves under arrest in a more conservative era. A slippery slope, indeed.

So there you have it, my best momma-blogger-schoolteacher explanation of where I stand on the topic of hate speech, Lunch Lady to MBA. (Congrats on that MBA part, by the way! I know how hard it is to work full time and get a Master’s by night, and I applaud you!) I welcome your comments and viewpoints in this difficult debate, and Lunchladytomba, I'd love to have your thoughts on this timely topic! You, too, my fellow politicos!