Hate Crime Essay, Research Paper
Our early ancestors left the control of Great Britain for the right of equality, yet time and time again over the past 200 years the equality of American citizens has been questioned. We now have many laws forbidding the harm of racial and ethnic minorities, but is hate speech considered harmful? Before we can determine if hate speech is harmful, we should decide what is exactly hate speech. Congress defines it as “a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim, or in the case of a property crime, the property is the object of the crime, because of the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person.” Most people agree with this definition of hate speech, but their opinions on how to treat it differ. One group believes that the answer to hate speech is more speech; this group believes that hate speech is protected by the first amendment. Another group believes that hate speech is harsh and threatening, and is a violation of the fourteenth amendment (American Government p.416). This group believes that restrictions should be put on the first amendment.
Some scholars believe hate speech will only continue if the Supreme Court continues its “hands-off” approach to monitor hate speech. The girlfriend of Benjamin Smith, a previous hate criminal, said in an interview for the New York Times “people really need to pay more attention to domestic violence and racism.” Only weeks before Smith killed two and injured nine, he had made many racist comments and threats. If there had been laws regulating hate speech authorities may have been able to detain or arrest Smith on these charges before he went on his rampage. The group of scholars supporting stronger restriction on the first amendment believes that hate speech is harmful to its targets by degrading them. These scholars believe that hate speech is a violation of the fourteenth amendment, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; not shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law” (American Government p. 631-2).
On the other hand, some scholars believe that regulating speech would be a direct violation of the first amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (American Government p. 631). These scholars believe that hate speech is just a way to express someone’s feelings. They also believe that the way to counteract hate speech is with more speech. However, the supporters of speech codes believe that this “more speech” tactic makes a direct challenge and leads to violence (American Government p.417). In contrast with the scholars, Smith supported the “more speech” approach and stated if “they (Supreme Court) try to restrict our legal means then we have no recourse but to resort to terrorism and violence.” This shows that either way government acts individuals may resort to other tactics such as violence.
Hate speech is a very sensitive subject to many Americans today. Through the readings and our discussions during class I concur with the scholars who support limiting the first amendment right of freedom of speech as it relates to hate speech. Hate speech often causes people to react emotionally instead of rationally. Usually these emotional reactions involve violence. As seen in previous occurrences, once a violent act is committed a chain of violence is started as one group reacts to the other. By controlling hate speech you would be able to prevent this chain reaction as well as prevent the degrading and intimidating comments being made publicly. Also by limiting hate speech, authorities could use this regulation as a means for monitoring persons such as Smith to avert acts of violence from being committed. By not restricting hate speech individuals may infringe on the natural god given rights that the founders of our country believed all individuals are entitled. The founders of our country believed all to be equal, no individual has the right to infringe on another’s rights of equality.
Dedman, Bill. The New York Times. “Midwest Gunman Had Engaged In Racist Acts at 2 Universities.”
Tuesday, July 6, 1999. Pg. A1 & A14.
Section 28003(a) of the Violent Crime Control & Law Enforcement Act of 1994(28U.S.C. 994 note).
Welch, Susan. American Government. Pgs. 416-7. @1999