Due April 20th

The United States of America are known at least in recent times for providing exceptionally broad protection for otherwise objectionable speech and expression, and hate speech is understood to be one of the areas in which United States of America have positioned themselves further out on the speech-protective end of the legal spectrum than perhaps most other countries have been willing to venture. Drawing the boundaries of freedom of speech involves more than just knowing what the basic purposes of the First Amendment are. The debate on speech regulation raises crucial issues about the meaning and limits of free expression and its relationship to other fundamental values such as civility, equality, and dignity.

Hate speech is thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or group on account of characteristics such as race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. The contemporary controversy over hate speech is so intense that it is easy to forget the problem is not a recent one, but one with a long history. The hate speech problem goes to the core of political and constitutional order by posing an apparently irreconcilable conflict between liberty, equality, and community. The problem can be traced back to the first settlement of the country, when it often took the form of conflict between different religious sects.

The United States federal Constitution offers no definition of freedom of speech which it forbids government to abridge. “The community, and the government that it establishes, have a duty to protect the rights of their citizens, who in turn have an obligation to obey the laws made to secure the rights of others” (Finkelman 20).Since government was established for the protection of individuals’ rights, it had a duty to refrain from violating free speech, but also an affirmative obligation to protect that right under the law. Efforts to regulate hate speech have generated a major political and constitutional debate, which has divided many communities, civil libertarian, scholars, and courts. Political lines have become increasingly blurred thus conservatives, liberals, and progressives all find themselves divided over the issue of speech regulation.

One reason why hate speech is deeply controversial is that there is a lack of a well-developed and generally accepted theory of when, if ever, speech may legitimately be restricted (Fisch 465-469). As developed in the works of John Locke and many other writers, natural rights theory sought to determine the origin, purpose, and limits of government by tracing its rise from a state of nature. In the state of nature human beings are free and equal, and vested with fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property.

The defense of free speech tends towards absolutism because there are no clearly definable limits to the restrictions that might be imposed on speech for the sake of general welfare. Any effort to restrict expression, even when necessary to protect the fundamental values, appears to pose a threat to freedom of speech. A “tragic choice” is thus faced whereby free speech cannot be defended without sacrificing fundamental values and the fundamental values cannot be protected without sacrificing the ideal of free speech (Finkelman 14-17).

Published in: on April 25, 2011 at 5:14 am  Leave a Comment  

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