Free Speech or Hate Speech

My Point Of View

By Tim Philbin


Recently a swastika was discovered in the bathroom of the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. It is not the first nor will it be the last time such childish acts will take place. Every so often there are news reports from near or far that tell us that some small minded individual has decided to express their opinion, usually in secret by defacing a piece of property.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said that  “hate speech of any kind in Burlington is unacceptable. It undermines our work to be a welcoming and inclusive community for all, and threatens the diversity that enriches our community.”.

Noble words but who defines what is hate speech?  Is it speech a single individual does not like or finds unacceptable?

According to Merriam Webster the  definition of hate speech is speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people. What happened in Burlington was an act of vandalism. The defacing or destruction of property. Yet so many are quick to call this action speech. There is a major difference.

When political leaders decide that they or some other governmental body will decide what speech is hateful we are all on a very slippery slop to restricting Free Speech.

A resent Supreme Court unanimous decision reaffirms that point. In the case of Matal vs Tam  Justice Samuel Alito wrote:

“The idea that the government may restrict speech expressing ideas that offend … strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express “the thought that we hate.”



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