A local tussle set against an international backdrop once again confronts us with hate speech vs. free speech.
The bus company in Portland, OR, a government agency, has to decide about one group of advertisers who want to promote Israel and an equally adamant set who want to advocate for Palestinians. The partisan messages they plan to splash across the side of buses are described as blunt.
Can the bus company say no? They want to. But the first amendment ties their hands.
Many declare Hate Speech (yes, capitalized) has ramifications beyond political discourse. One of them is Portlander Ellis Bradley whose food cart was spray-painted with swastikas and racial slurs. “I wish there was a law so when you do something like that, especially when I have my child with me, there would be some kind of sanction, someone I can call and say, ‘Hey, look, this is wrong,’” he told the Portland Tribune newspaper.
Coming so soon after the Internet video “Innocence of the Muslims” sparked violent protests across the Middle East, the controversy feed naturally into The Classroom Law Project, a conference of almost 100 attorneys, judges, law professors, and religious leaders this month in Portland’s Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse.
Advocating some reasonable controls on provocative speech is New York University Law School professor Jeremy Waldron who wrote the recent book “The Harm In Hate Speech.” Other countries do it, especially in Europe, he says. Many agree, particularly those in the growing diversity consulting industry and numerous prosecutors around the country.
Another view is ably represented by constitutional lawyer Charlie Hinkle. “You don’t have the right to have your dignity upheld by society,” he told the paper. “Hurt feelings go with the territory. You can’t have a speech code that worries about insults, because that’s what 90 percent of our discourse is.”
Lost in the discussion is the now revealed information that the “Innocence of the Muslims” video did not spark violence against the US Embassy in Benghazi. Our first-impression understanding of social mechanisms was entirely incorrect there.
It’s an effective term “Hate Speech.” No one supports hate. But the lying starts with the label. Who decides what’s hate? That’s the real issue. The people who want to control speech want to control your life. They feel they are better able to judge what you do and say than you are. Don’t look at the advocacy; look at the advocates. They are generally people who think this freedom thing has gotten completely out of hand.
Extremists we can ignore? No. Hate speech — with no real definition — has already become an element in some crimes. Government prosecutors are reading the minds of people who commit assault and adding extra charges.
Once the no-hate campaigners successfully proscribe your words, they have no reason to stop. Silencing those who see the world differently from them is not their last step. Creating a world in their own self image is. They’re not letting you in on that part of the strategy until later because you can’t understand as well as people who have a superior insight into how words work.