The true meaning of freedom of speech and why it’s more important now than ever.
One of America’s greatest aspects comes in the form of the first 10 amendments, and in the enduring legacy the Bill of Rights ensures. It’s no surprise, then, that the first and ostensibly most important amendment codifies the right to free expression and speech. We all, as American’s, know this, but not everyone realizes the real reasons why this is essential to a free society.
Speech is the truest extension of one’s own thoughts. So much so, that psychologically, when you say something aloud, no matter what it is, it rewrites a bit of your brain to view it as true. What you say is quite literally what you will come to believe. And so, the best way to protect the freedom of thought is to protect the freedom of speech because the two are inextricably linked.
The founders knew this. Expression protections were literally their 1st priority after writing the body of the constitution. They knew that any attempts to limit or control speech would lead to the rewiring of citizen’s brains, and thus a reworking of society in the vision of the speech-limiters themselves. That doesn’t sound like freedom, because it’s not.
Right now, politicians and activists are frantically searching for ways to circumvent the constitution and limit the expression of Americans. Whether its cultural control, as in the case of political correctness, political control, like the online censorship of conservative voices, or legal control, as in the forced acceptance of unscientific decisions, in every case, it flies against the wills of the founders.
Those on their quest for control have zoned in on a particular concept of speech, one ripe for dismantling at the low-low cost of freedom. This idea is as nebulous as it is, counterintuitively, essential: hate speech. Now, at first glance, it seems good to limit something called hate speech. “Hate speech is violent,” they say, “it denies my right to existence.” Whatever that means. They turn to the definition of hate speech as discriminatory language targeted at one of the protected classes.
Here’s the truth. Speech is not violent. In fact, speech is the opposite of violence. Even “hate speech” is nothing more than speech. Words. And words themselves can never be violent. Another hang up in their anti-hate crusade is the word “hate” itself. What takes something from simply “offensive” to “hateful?” It’s a purely subjective metric. And we certainly can’t outlaw all offensive speech, because nearly all speech could offend someone. As it’s so ethereal in nature, we couldn’t possibly limit hate speech equally.
Most importantly, the 1st amendment doesn’t protect your right to speech, not really. It protects the rights of the people whose speech you hate. It is a right that keeps you, the government, and every American from dictating the things others can say, even if you detest their content. It explicitly protects hated speech, because that’s the speech on the chopping block. And that’s good news for you, because eventually someone’s going to hate something you say. And when that day comes, you’ll be glad we have an amendment that keeps people who hate your speech from being able to silence you.
And if you don't like what someone says, you dont win by silencing them. The antidote to hate speech is more speech from more perspectives, not silencing, and not deplatforming. Use your platform to inform, to correct, and to mend ties. And in the process, the arguments you use to rebutt the hateful speech can serve to inform others, adding to the cultural landscape, not removing parts of it.
Freedom of Speech is a uniquely American idea, and one which should be kept intact, in its entirety, even in the face of those who use it for harm.