Is hate speech a good thing? That question is so loaded with different meanings that I can’t answer it. Is it wrong to say evil things about other people? Yes. Is it wrong to demean others? Yes. Is it wrong to call for the injury or death of a group of people based on their beliefs, skin color, or other characteristics? Yes. But should hate speech be illegal? No.
There are those in the United States that are calling for the criminalization of hate speech. This bothers me because the first amendment is the foundation of our bill of rights. Let’s take a look at what this country would look like without the first amendment (and by extension, the other amendments, since you wouldn’t be able to speak out against the government).
There would be no freedom of religion. If hate speech is illegal, churches would be forcibly closed that preach against whatever conventional wisdom says is ok. So the Westboro Baptist Church would be closed, but so would the First Baptist Church, and any other church that preaches the Bible, which says homosexuality is sin, abortion is murder, adultery is sin, and hell is real.
There would be no freedom of information. If the first amendment is gone, then the government could legally suppress information dissemination. Newspapers, blogs, tv stations, and other media outlets would be shut down, people would be thrown in jail unless they “toed the line” with what the government thinks. People would be sent to jail because of things they said on Facebook.
There would be no second amendment. If you aren’t allowed to speak up against the government, they can do whatever they want, up to and including confiscating your weapons, which the second amendment says you have the right to keep for the express purpose of defending yourself against oppressive governments.
You wouldn’t be able to say anything if the government wants to use your house for anything. You couldn’t speak up if the government wants to search your house or belongings at any time of day or night. You would have no rights in court, since your very speech condemns you. Jury trials would be a joke, since people would not want to get in trouble for disagreeing with the government. You couldn’t speak up for those jailed indefinitely. Cruel and unusual punishment? How is anybody going to find out about it if we don’t have freedom of the press?
And so you see that, without freedom of speech, the rest of the “bill of rights” fall like a house of cards. I agree with Evelyn Beatrice Hall who, in her biography of Voltaire, said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”