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New report explains why allowing ‘hate speech’ keeps America free

A new report published by a conservative think tank argues that attempts to criminalize discourse that some call “hate speech” actually threatens America’s ability to self govern.

The report, titled “Hate Speech and the New Tyranny over the Mind,” was published through the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research and educational institution.

The piece was authored by Arthur Milikh, who told The College Fix in an interview that he defines hate speech as “speech that the oppressor group uses in order to harm the so-called marginalized groups.”

But it is the type of speech, he said, that is woven into a free republic.

“I don’t think fellow Americans should be unkind to one another, but the purpose of the freedom of speech is to allow the public to rule itself by discussing all issues essential to the nation’s future, even if self-respect is harmed,” he said. “You cannot have self rule without the freedom of speech.”

Milikh is a researcher on the founding principles of America and associate director of the foundation’s Center for American Studies.

The report comes as arguments continue over whether hate speech qualifies as Constitutionally protected free speech amid a growing chorus of college students and progressive activists who argue hate speech is akin to literal violence. It also comes as more big tech companies continue to censor posts subjectively deemed as degrading or intolerant.

While the First Amendment does not explicitly describe hate speech, it declares that the government does not have the right to create laws that abridge freedom of speech. (The Supreme Court has ruled the Constitution does not protect speech that intentionally incites imminent violence or lawlessness.)

One of the report’s key claims is that laws prohibiting hate speech undermine the public’s ability to rule itself. Another key claim is that outlawing hate speech “aims to silence the speech of the ‘oppressor’ group while giving full speech to the ‘marginalized.’”

“Is hate speech a legitimate category of free speech? The answer is yes. … I don’t think a country without hate speech is possible. No country like that has ever existed,” Milikh told The College Fix.

Milikh’s report states that the debate over hate speech “reveals a fundamental disagreement about the purpose of America.” It argues that the criminalization of hate speech leads to the end of free speech in the country by undermining self-government.

“Without practice in self-rule and political deliberation made possible by free speech, the habits of character required for republican self-government will disappear in time,” it states. “The loss of our practice of thinking independently and making judgments about the common good, the national interest, and human merit would give way to the domination of anger and resentment and a corresponding expansion of the state to adjudicate and rule individuals no longer fit for political liberty.”

The report also argues that attempts to punish hate speech will only make it more common: it “promises to make the public square even more filled with hatred. The criminalization of ‘hate speech’ leads not just to more ‘hate speech,’ but also to civil strife.”

“Countries that currently have hate speech laws on the books, they have just as much, if not, more hate speech in their public square, it’s just directed against the majority group,” Milikh elaborated.

The report cites a study which found that “even though both the United Kingdom and France criminalize ‘hate speech’ directed at Jews, violent anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2018 were 13 times more likely to occur in the U.K. and four times more likely to occur in France than in the U.S., which does not criminalize such speech.”

Milikh’s analysis also looked at countries such as Canada, Germany and Denmark, which all enforce active restrictions on statements with hateful intent. German citizens who disagreed with their nation’s immigration policy, for example, found themselves receiving fines for voicing their opinions as these thoughts fell under their country’s definition of hate speech.

“Western Europe’s ‘hate speech’ laws also criminalize remarks critical of religion. In their application, however, these laws disproportionately target speech against Islam, while the public square is open to attacks on Christianity,” the report states.

The report also warns that America’s higher education system actively promotes policies and programs that aim to shut down speech deemed offensive to some.

“Many of America’s colleges and universities are now the training ground for a generation of future citizens sympathetic to outlawing ‘hate speech,’” it states.

When asked his view of the solution to this debate over the validity of hate speech, Milikh cited the college system as a possible starting point.

“One front is the universities. They have, for a long time, been federally funded and they are teaching students to look skeptically upon the freedom of speech and be in favor of outlawing hate speech. Taxpayers, in other words, are paying to undermine their own nation,” he said.

“In time, in ten years or so, a large percentage of those universities will decay and go out of business and I think that would be a net benefit for the nation given what universities have become.”

Another solution involves America taking a much more conservative stance in the future, according to Milikh.

“Leading by example, pushing back, showing how absurd this is, that’s one of the ways to succeed in this, but what that requires is a class of politicians that look a lot more like Trump,” he told The Fix. “I think that the ultimate protection to the freedom of speech will not be through litigation, it will be through statesmen who constantly remind the American public of why this is such a sacred right.”

When asked his final thoughts on the matter, Milikh had this to say: “If the freedom of speech disappears, America is over.”

MORE: Virginia professors adopt statement championing free speech

Read the full report on the Heritage Foundation’s website.

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About the Author
Jackson Walker -- University of Wisconsin Madison