As the past four years have shown, hateful comments directed at people based on race, nationality, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, have shot up dramatically. I'm not saying we should repeal the First Amendment, but we need to rewrite it, or amend it, so that hate speech isn't protected as free speech.
This week, Aaryn Gries, a 22-year-old student at Texas State University in San Antonio, was the latest housemate to be evicted from the CBS reality TV show "Big Brother", after weeks of her uttering racist and homophobic comments at other houseguests picked up mostly on the show's Internet feeds. Last week, the Bismarck Tribune reported that Craig Paul Cobb, a 61-year-old fugitive from Canada and an avowed white supremacist, bought a house and other lots in the tiny town of Leith, North Dakota. He is doing so with the intent to invite other like-minded white supremacists from all over to move there and eventually take over the local town council in the hopes of creating a white colony where any suspected "leftists" who tries to come in will face arrest. He even dreams of naming the new colony after him. And on Saturday, August 10, a clown in an Obama mask was the butt of crude jokes at a rodeo at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia, Missouri. Following that incident, the Internet was loaded with hateful, racist comments defending the rodeo. I even mentioned it in my previous diary on August 12 where I included screenshots of Christopher Calloway of Pine Creek, Delaware, who got into a racist exchange with another poster, whom he suspected of being African-American, on the Associated Press Web site. The Kansas City Star was also loaded with hateful comments. Both sites took the comments down.
There are countless other incidents that I could think of, such as Donald Trump accusing the president of possessing a fake birth certificate, what George Zimmerman supporters said about Trayvon Martin and of course, the Westboro Baptist Church, but I'm sure you get the picture.
Why are such people expressing such hateful thoughts? Because they can. Because the First Amendment, our founding fathers wrote up when they drafted our Constitution, ratified in 1787, protects them. Back then, hate speech wasn't an issue and you didn't have hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan or carnival barkers like Donald Trump spewing bigoted remarks. There was also no such thing as semi-automatic weapons when the Second Amendment was drafted, but that's a topic for another diary.
There are defenders of the First Amendment. They would say that short of crying "fire!" in a crowded theater or making slanderous, libelous or defamatory comments about another person or establishment or making threats or posting pics of child pornography, you don't have to worry about any consequence that could follow should you express an opinion that isn't popular. They would also argue that the only alternative to free speech is a totalitarian society like China, where simply publicly expressing disagreement with the government, denouncing Communism or holding a public rally protesting the government can get you arrested, imprisoned or even executed. And their press is completely state-run, their media only reports what their government wants them to report. Plus with free speech, you don't have to worry about another person wanting to do harm to you if you say something that he or she might find personally offensive. They would also say that without free speech, Miley Cyrus would face the same fate as North Korea's Kim Jong-un's ex-girlfriend did when she crossed him. Howard Stern would also not fare well in a society that controls free speech, free speech advocates would say.
Here's what I have to say in response. I am not saying we need to be like China, North Korea or any other totalitarian societies in order to stamp out hate speech. In fact, you need not look any further than our northern neighbor, Canada.
Canada is very similar to us in many ways. Like the U.S., it is a developed Western-style industrialized democracy. Although their electoral system is different from ours, like us, they too have free elections, their political parties are more or less similar to our political parties, most of their entertainment on their television is very similar to what we have here and in many cases, they even have imported shows from the U.S. as well. And they have a free press.
One huge difference between the U.S. and Canada (and most of the rest of developed Western-industrialized democracies) is how free speech is respected.
In Canada, you have the right to criticize the government. You have the right to dissent from the governing party. As a representative of the opposition, you have the right to offer a idea different from the governing party. All without consequence. What you can't do in Canada is express a negative or disparaging comment or opinion about a specific group of people based on race, nationality, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. Here's an example.
In 2003, the U.S. was about to go to war with Iraq. Canada, run by the Liberal Party at the time, expressed disapproval of our plans. A Liberal member of parliament went too far in expressing her views of the U.S. and our foreign policy. At one point, she referred to us as "damn Americans." That got her in trouble. She attacked a group of people based on nationality. The Canadian House of Commons voted to censure her and she also paid a fine. And what about Craig Paul Cobb? The Canadian citizen who wants to start a whites-only colony in North Dakota? He's on the lam from Canada because he expressed wanting to start a racial holy war up there. Now that he's here, his long-term goal is to start a racial holy war in the U.S. Here in the U.S. though, he is within his legal rights, because expressing hateful speech is protected here as free speech, unlike Canada and most similarly developed Western-industrialized democracies.
Here in the U.S., anybody with access to the Internet can post racist comments on any U.S.-based site whether it's about blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, gays, disabled, Obama, Trayvon Martin or whomever/whatever. You should go to the Los Angeles Times Web site, look for any articles involving Obama, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, immigrants and read the comments below. You will be horrified to see what kinds of stuff are allowed on that site. Last January during Obama's inauguration, one person expressed hope that John Wilkes Booth would be at the inauguration. Another good place to look for hate speech is news.yahoo.com. There you will find tons of news dispatches from the Associated Press, Reuters and other news services and under the dispatches you will find tons of hateful comments.
Here's my argument as to why allowing unfiltered hate speech is a bad idea. Between the end of WWI and the early 1930s, a growing number of people in Germany were joining the National Socialist Workers Party, or Nazi Party. During that time, many Nazis, led by an Austrian named Adolf Hitler, were allow free reign to express hateful speech scapegoating the Jews for Germany's economic decline. Up to national elections in 1933, the Nazis were gathering a following and growing in popularity. Eventually, it led to them winning elections in 1933 and taking control of the German government. Hitler's first act as chancellor was to outlaw every single opposition political party except the Nazi Party, outlaw elections and outlaw all speech against the government. I don't have to go into what followed afterwards. I'm sure you know the rest.
This guy, Craig Paul Cobb, who wants to start a white colony in North Dakota, is aiming to eventually do the same thing in this country. Believe it or not, he will have plenty of help from the likes of Aaryn Gries, the clown who wore the Obama mask at the rodeo and other people who don't like Obama not only because of his politics, but also because he's black. They may even reach out to fringe elements of the Tea Party. The possibilities are endless all because of unfiltered free speech that allows hate speech against certain groups of people to be expressed without consequence. The U.S. Supreme Court is also complicit in this. Years ago, they ruled that neo-Nazis have a right to hold a protest in a Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois. And they also ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church is protected under the First Amendment to hold anti-gay protests at military funerals. They also could have held an anti-gay protest at the funerals of the shooting victims at Sandy Hook in Connecticut last December.
Enough is enough. It's time the U.S. get on board with the rest of the world of developed Western-industrialized democracies and outlaw hate speech. The only way to do that is to rewrite the First Amendment. Of course it very likely won't happen in our lifetimes as changing anything in the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of both houses of Congress and ratification of 38 state legislatures, but I hope at least I will have played a big part in starting the debate about rewriting the First Amendment with the intent to outlaw hate speech.