Freedom from hatred: A new outlook on freedom of speech
The "Freedom of Speech" clause has been warped in many American minds to defend their rights to vilify, hate and oppose other citizens at the detriment of American society. Implementation of laws restricting hate speech will only go so far in rectifying this; rather, a cultural shift towards respect of all persons presents the best solution providing us with a "Freedom from Hatred." While I can already hear many libertarians and conservatives scoff at this "hippie" ideal of unity, only through entrance into this social contract can our nation recover from one of its deepest divides since the Civil War. While many believe our freedom of speech and other liberties ranks us as one of the world's best, this tearing down of other American citizens has thrown us to the bottom of the intolerant and oppressive barrel. How great can freedom of speech really be if all it let's you do is hate others?
What many fail to realize about hate speech is its role in limiting that "freedom of speech" right to others. When we disparage homosexuality so much that we would refuse restaurant service to them, we are denying their freedom of expression in the process. When Facebook flip-flops on enforcement of it's own policies regarding images promoting and fetishing domestic and sexual violence, women are collectively told they aren't welcome in this space, and a social media tool that once empowered them to have a voice is now escorting them out. Using "freedom of speech" to hate and marginalize other groups has the effect of stripping them of that same right.
The bitter climate of hatred that many have defended through the First Amendment should assume some of the blame for our divided America. Only 35 percent of Americans believe the country is on the correct path according to "The Atlantic," and six in 10 Americans reported that the country has become more divided in the past decade. Interesting enough, equal opportunity and freedom of speech were the top choices that respondents thought would best unify America. Meanwhile, issues like gun control, abortion and gay marriage have strongly polarized Americans as the Pew Research Center notes nearly 50-50 splits for those three issues.
Let me be clear: what is under fire here isn't the actual "freedom of speech" amendment. The amendment only extends to the affairs of the government-private companies like A&E were at full liberty to put Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame on leave if they didn't find his comments to be suitable to the network's image or mission. What I take issue with is Sarah Palin and other socially conservative Republicans getting all flustered when Robertson is on the outs, but remaining silent when the Dixie Chicks speak out against the George W. Bush administration and the Iraq War. Hell, it wasn't just silence that came from that side of the aisle, it was deafening outroar as thousands took to the cause of vilifying those who would speak out against our invasion in the Middle East.
There lies the problem, folks. Many, both liberals and conservatives, are in the habit of using the "freedom of speech" argument to protect themselves and throw the others in the fire. To be honest, I'm rather ill from the sight of it. We're using a couple of lines written over 200 years ago to justify these hate-fueled debates. We've long stopped educating and moved to simply deriding the other party. We often talk about the America that the Founding Fathers would want, and I don't really think this is it. Instead of cultivating a culture where both sides can learn from the other, we've become rather stuck up in our beliefs. I will be the first to admit it's hard to respect another party when internally you're just fuming about the rights of your uterus, but we have to start somewhere.
While laws banning "hate speech" in other countries have gone over swimmingly, there needs to be a larger people-based shift in the United States. By entering into a larger social contract of respect for all parties, we will accomplish far more than a "na na na, I was right" attitude. It's about time we stop embarrassing and start educating. "Freedom of speech" is a cornerstone of the American Dream, and it's about time we start respecting it's place and others if we're to advance any farther as a country.
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