Has Free Speech Been Taken Too Far?

Has Free Speech Been Taken Too Far?

These days it seems that every offense, regardless of how absurd, offensive, or harmful it may be is defended by those rallying to the cry of the right of free speech; however, have we taken free speech too far?

The small town of Nahunta, Georgia was recently victimized by an uninvited, and very unwanted rally staged by members of the KKK, a group with a very dark and often violent past dating back to some of the darkest chapters in American history. Some would argue that to spite their ridiculous, unfounded, and offensive views and propaganda, they still have the rights to assemble and speak as they wish; however, I think this view represents an extremely misguided approach and a fundamental misinterpretation of the concepts of free speech (and assembly).

One of the most often quoted lines regarding freedom from John Stuart Mill illustrates the important point that you only have rights in so much as they do not threaten the rights of others: "The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it." In other words, your rights end where another's begin. Just as it is obvious that yelling “fire” in a crowded building is a danger to others and is not protected as free speech, neither should forms of speech or expression which purposely support the demeaning and degradation of others and / or advocates violence or a prejudice towards others based on race or gender.

In passing hate speech laws and regulations we have taken a step in the right direction, but we must also realize that things such as white supremacist groups, nazi propaganda, pornography, and related groups or materials responsible for producing or propagating hate speech, in all of its forms are also not truly protected under the freedom of speech umbrella because, just as yelling “fire”, these things cause great harm to our society as a whole as well as to individual rights and liberties and as we have already established once your actions begin to infringe upon the rights of another, they are no longer protected.

And what harm, you might ask, may come from such things? Ask the mayor of Nahunta, Georgia who stated that the KKK's presence is “...going to leave a bad scar on the city”, or the number of women who have been victimized, raped, or even killed due to the influences that pornography and other hate speech against women have led to. It seems that we have all too readily forgotten the lessons of history, from Martin Luther to Locke to Hitler that speech is indeed a mighty weapon, and whether it is yielded to forge a new, better society for all, or whether it is used as a destructive mechanism that threatens the very core of humanity it is powerful none the less; and just as any other weapon, it must be handled with great care, ever mindful that we must find ways to protect ourselves and society from its misuse and encourage its positive and responsible role as a tool for change for the betterment of all.

We have not only a right but a responsibility to protect the safety and interest of the common good for the welfare of all. It is easy for us to ignore the plight of others and dismiss this issue when we are not the one in the cross hairs; however, if we do not take a firm and unified stand, you may very well one day find that it is indeed you that some other group has a bullseye on because, as the Holocaust taught us, eventually, they WILL come for you to.