Last weekend’s events in Charlottesville, Va., along with the threat of future protests by white supremacist groups, have sparked a national debate about placing legal limits on hate speech. The thinking is that some views are so abhorrent they should be banned.
As long as it’s still legal to do so, we’d like to declare our abhorrence at that suggestion. The rights of free speech and assembly are bedrock principles of American democracy.
Neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups are attempting a resurgence, bolstered in no small part by the sympathetic undertone of remarks by President Donald Trump.
As repugnant as those groups are, it’s even more abhorrent to contemplate trashing the First Amendment to stifle their free speech.
Ahead of Trump’s inauguration, extreme left-wing groups began using the slogan “Punch a Nazi” as they advocated violent intervention to halt demonstrations by far-right groups.
It was not OK then, nor will it ever be.
Daryle Lamont Jenkins, a member of the anti-fascist movement, told National Public Radio on Thursday that violent confrontation is justifiable when police won’t stop white supremacists from marching. He believes in illegal vigilante action when police refuse to violate marchers’ constitutional rights.
Imagine how quickly our country would descend into anarchy. The minute it becomes acceptable to break the law to silence one group, all others become vulnerable to attack. That’s why the Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down government attempts to ban hate speech.
“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views. ... The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in one assenting opinion this year.
The moment Americans empower the government to tell them what they can and cannot say, our nation and its cherished democratic principles will be doomed.
From an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch