Is it hate speech? You decide.

27 Dec

Many people aren’t exactly sure how to define “hate speech,” but they’re pretty confident they’d know it if they heard it.

Would you?

Take a look at some recent examples of comments that may or not be hate speech.  Check the ones you think qualify for the label.

The official definition of hate speech can be a little fuzzy. Most sources define it as oral or written messages that “incite hatred” against a person or group on the basis of their race, religion, sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. What does “incite hatred” mean? To rouse strong dislike or ill will.

Freedom of speech is a right, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to express beliefs and ideas without unwarranted government restriction. Does that mean Americans have the right to say whatever they want when they want to say it? Absolutely not.  An act of speech loses its protection when it creates a dangerous situation, such as provokes violence or incites illegal actions; when it libels or slanders an individual or organization by sharing false or misleading statements; or when it meets the legal definition of obscenity.

Is “hate speech” protected? In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Westboro Baptist Church had the protected right to hold protests at military funerals. Their protests usually involved members holding signs such as “God hates fags” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Hateful? Yes.

Immoral? Oh yeah.

Infuriating? You betcha.

Illegal? No.

Although the courts protect such speech, many of America’s institutions of higher education do not. These colleges and universities have faced pressure to respond to the concerns of concerns of those who are the objects of hate. Consequently, they have adopted policies/penalties based on speech that offends any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

The societal penalty for saying something hateful or insensitive used to be a stern reprimand or shunning of the speaker. The best thing to do was NOT to give the person the attention he or she craved. Ignore them, and they’ll go away. However, many people have been conditioned to be loud, persistent, and sometimes outrageous and threatening, whenever they encounter something that offends them. Some have been become a little too eager to throw a “hate speech” label on differences of opinion, and unfortunately, some have become hypocritical with their views on such speech.

Now take a second look at the quiz comments with a little background information:

  • “I hope and pray every day that someone anally rapes you.”
    The comment was left on Facebook for a  Christian youth speaker. The speaker is a white male; the writer is another white male.
  • “You deserve to be gang-raped for your stupidity.”
    The comment was left for a female blogger who wrote about why she didn’t want her daughter to emulate Miley Cyrus’s behavior. The blogger is conservative and of mixed ethnicity. The gender and ethnicity of the commenter are unknown.
  • “Hey, tranny. Know your place.”
    A transgendered student at Vassar College found this  note left on a dorm door. Other reports of similar notes followed; however, the hate was later discovered to a hoax. The “victim” and another student wrote the vile messages and then filed the reports themselves, claiming to be the victims of unknown haters.
  • “I’m gonna find you, _____, you toxic little queen, and I’m gonna (expletive) you up.”
    This is a tweet from actor Alec Baldwin directed at a reporter who accused his wife was tweeting at a funeral. Baldwin is a white male, and the reporter is a gay white male.

Does this information change any of your responses? Based on the working definition of the term, all the comments should qualify as hate speech because they incited hatred against an individual because of religion, gender or sexual orientation. However, many would argue the first example does not qualify because the recipient is a white, Christian male. Others would argue the second example does not qualify because the recipient, although female and multi-racial, has conservative viewpoints. The third was considered blatant hate speech and its news coverage created public outrage; however, few outlets bothered to cover the story when the comments were revealed as a hoax. The fourth got a pass because the speaker is an outspoken Hollywood actor known for his liberal political beliefs. (Baldwin finally faced consequences several months later after another hateful outburst.)

Hate speech is hate speech regardless of who it’s aimed at or who’s doing it. Too many media outlets perpetuate the problem when “news personalities” and other VIPs mock or discredit ANY person because of their beliefs, gender, race or any other personal factor; their actions add an implied endorsement to the treatment. They also add to the problem when they fail to exercise due diligence with allegations.

Hatred is ignorance that needs to be disputed with facts and dialogue, and ALL people benefit when you take vitriol out of the darkness and expose it in the light so people can see what it really is.

Comment Policy:
I welcome your feedback, but I will not tolerate personal attacks against me, my family or another commenter. It’s okay to disagree, but be respectful. Attack the issue, not the person.  Vulgarity, racism, religion bashing, slams about sexual orientation, name calling, advertisements and generally being a jerk to others will send your comment to the trash bin.


5 Responses to “Is it hate speech? You decide.”

  1. Rita Poynor December 29, 2013 at 9:20 AM #

    Oh for the days of: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!”

  2. rgdole December 28, 2013 at 9:59 PM #

    my problem with it is that now a days people mistake disagreement for hate… it’s like someone can’t share their opinion or speak of their beliefs without being seen as hateful and evil… which is terrible because then people overlook the real problems that are out there and focus on easy things to be mad about instead of fighting real hate…

  3. Mom2SpecialNeedsKids December 28, 2013 at 5:37 PM #

    Too bad the definition of hate speech doesn’t include the most vulnerable among us — children with disabilities. I have read comments such as “The cry of that (autistic) child is the cry of an animal in pain. They should be killed to put them out of their misery” (the additional comments made it clear that this in no way was intended to be a compassionate statement, but rather it was true HATE SPEECH.

    • Kim Keller December 28, 2013 at 6:15 PM #

      There is a special place in Hell for those who mistreat people with disabilities. Grrrrr.

  4. Abby December 27, 2013 at 11:06 PM #

    hate is hate no matter who says it, I dont think it should matter if the speaker is the same race as the person they are speaking to. One of the problems imo is that people are so comfortable speaking hatefully when behind a keyboard. I would like to know how many of those same people would make the same comments if face to face with the person,…

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