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Hate Speech Crime

Our early ancestors left the control of Great Britain for the right of equality,
yet time and time again over the past 200 years the equality of American
citizens has been questioned. We now have many laws forbidding the harm of
racial and ethnic minorities, but is hate speech considered harmful? Before we
can determine if hate speech is harmful, we should decide what is exactly hate
speech. Congress defines it as “a crime in which the defendant
intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property
is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color,
national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any
person.” Most people agree with this definition of hate speech, but their
opinions on how to treat it differ. One group believes that the answer to hate
speech is more speech; this group believes that hate speech is protected by the
first amendment. Another group believes that hate speech is harsh and
threatening, and is a violation of the fourteenth amendment (American Government
p.416). This group believes that restrictions should be put on the first
amendment. Some scholars believe hate speech will only continue if the Supreme
Court continues its “hands-off” approach to monitor hate speech. The
girlfriend of Benjamin Smith, a previous hate criminal, said in an interview for
the New York Times “people really need to pay more attention to domestic
violence and racism.” Only weeks before Smith killed two and injured nine,
he had made many racist comments and threats. If there had been laws regulating
hate speech authorities may have been able to detain or arrest Smith on these
charges before he went on his rampage. The group of scholars supporting stronger
restriction on the first amendment believes that hate speech is harmful to its
targets by degrading them. These scholars believe that hate speech is a
violation of the fourteenth amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in
the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the
United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or
enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of
the United States; not shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the law” (American Government p.

631-2). On the other hand, some scholars believe that regulating speech would be
a direct violation of the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law
respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of
the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress
of grievances” (American Government p. 631). These scholars believe that
hate speech is just a way to express someone’s feelings. They also believe that
the way to counteract hate speech is with more speech. However, the supporters
of speech codes believe that this “more speech” tactic makes a direct
challenge and leads to violence (American Government p.417). In contrast with
the scholars, Smith supported the “more speech” approach and stated if
“they (Supreme Court) try to restrict our legal means then we have no
recourse but to resort to terrorism and violence.” This shows that either
way government acts individuals may resort to other tactics such as violence.

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Hate speech is a very sensitive subject to many Americans today. Through the
readings and our discussions during class I concur with the scholars who support
limiting the first amendment right of freedom of speech as it relates to hate
speech. Hate speech often causes people to react emotionally instead of
rationally. Usually these emotional reactions involve violence. As seen in
previous occurrences, once a violent act is committed a chain of violence is
started as one group reacts to the other. By controlling hate speech you would
be able to prevent this chain reaction as well as prevent the degrading and
intimidating comments being made publicly. Also by limiting hate speech,
authorities could use this regulation as a means for monitoring persons such as
Smith to avert acts of violence from being committed. By not restricting hate
speech individuals may infringe on the natural god given rights that the
founders of our country believed all individuals are entitled. The founders of
our country believed all to be equal, no individual has the right to infringe on
another’s rights of equality.

The New York Times. “Midwest Gunman Had Engaged In Racist Acts at 2
Universities.” Tuesday, July 6, 1999. Pg. A1 & A14. Section 28003(a) of
the Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act of 1994(28U.S.C. 994 note).

Welch, Susan. American Government. Pgs. 416-7. @1999


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