Here Is Why It’s Time To Get Tough On Hate Speech In America

The recent controversy at the University of Iowa – in which an “artist” (supposedly an “anti-racist” one) put up an “art exhibit” which resembles a KKK member covered in newspaper clippings about racial violence – is a perfect example of why we need to implement real legislation against hate speech in the United States. The year is 2015 and all other countries have laws against hate speech along with laws against other forms of speech which violate basic human rights. As a matter of fact, international human rights law MANDATES laws against hate speech. Protecting vulnerable minorities from hate speech is one of the most basic and fundamental of human rights obligations, and all human rights organizations worldwide have emphasized this.  But the United States refuses to protect even the most basic of human rights, firmly establishing itself as a pariah state that falls far behind the rest of the world in terms of protecting fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.

First, let’s have a look at international human rights laws which the United States has ratified.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.


No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes that all people have the right to freedom of expression before stating:

  1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law.
  2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide states that direct and public incitement to commit genocide is illegal.

Finally, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination states:

States Parties condemn all propaganda and all organizations which are based on ideas or theories of superiority of one race or group of persons of one colour or ethnic origin, or which attempt to justify or promote racial hatred and discrimination in any form, and undertake to adopt immediate and positive measures designed to eradicate all incitement to, or acts of, such discrimination and, to this end, with due regard to the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the rights expressly set forth in article 5 of this Convention, inter alia:

(a) Shall declare an offence punishable by law all dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, as well as all acts of violence or incitement to such acts against any race or group of persons of another colour or ethnic origin, and also the provision of any assistance to racist activities, including the financing thereof;

(b) Shall declare illegal and prohibit organizations, and also organized and all other propaganda activities, which promote and incite racial discrimination, and shall recognize participation in such organizations or activities as an offence punishable by law;

(c) Shall not permit public authorities or public institutions, national or local, to promote or incite racial discrimination.

In Hagan v. Australia, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ruled that, while not originally intended to demean anyone, the name of the “E. S. ‘Nigger’ Brown Stand” (named in honor of 1920s rugby league player Edward Stanley Brown) at a Toowoomba sports field was racially offensive and should be removed. This effectively establishes that, under international human rights law, anything which offends or insults ethnic minorities is illegal, even if it is not intended to be. What this means it that the KKK display at the University of Iowa constitutes illegal racial discrimination under international human rights law which the United States has ratified. The United Nations has repeatedly stressed that none of these laws restrict, limit, or infringe upon freedom of speech – as a matter of fact, they protect freedom of speech.

The US has laws against racial discrimination, but these laws only target discrimination in service and employment. In all other countries, anti-discrimination laws ban the IDEA of racial discrimination, which means that ALL forms of racial discrimination – including hate speech – are outlawed. For example, there was huge outrage when Switzerland ruled that giving Nazi salutes was not always legally punishable as racial discrimination, and even the far-right Generation Identitaire were outraged. The KKK display at the University of Iowa would constitute illegal racial discrimination in any civilized country, so why doesn’t it constitute illegal racial discrimination in the US?

Likewise, the US has laws against hate crimes, but these laws only increase penalties for other crimes motivated by hatred.  They don’t include hate speech as a hate crime.  In all other countries, hate crime laws automatically outlaw any expression of hatred.  The KKK display at the University of Iowa would constitute a hate crime in any civilized country, so why doesn’t it constitute a hate crime in the US?

Even in countries with weak hate speech laws – countries where people freely spread lies and defamation about minorities – you still cannot legally advocate or justify violence against minority groups, and absolutely nobody believes that you should ever be allowed to.  But, in the US, you can.  The US allows people to advocate violence, murder, terrorism, and genocide – even against minorities – all in the name of “freedom”.  How is genocide “freedom”?  Where in the First Amendment does it say that genocide is acceptable?  How can a supposedly civilized and democratic society possibly justify allowing people to freely incite violence and murder against vulnerable minorities?  As an example, there have been several cases of US preachers saying that LGBT people should receive the death penalty.  In a civilized country with democracy and human rights, anyone who said something like this would receive at least ten years in prison for inciting hatred, violence, murder, and genocide against a protected minority group.  But, in the US, this is allowed in the name of “freedom”.  Well, guess what?  Homophobes inciting the genocide of LGBT people is most definitely not “freedom” for the highly vulnerable LGBT people who already live their lives in constant fear of homophobic violence.  How can the US possibly justify – from any kind of logical standpoint – allowing this sort of thing in the name of “freedom”?

Hate Speech In Other Countries

Look at what’s happening in Japan right now. For years, human rights groups and the United Nations have stressed that Japan needs to do more to combat hate speech through the law, and that it needs to create educational programs to educate and re-educate the public in order to prevent hatred and other unacceptable ideas. Japan has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination – and Japanese courts have ruled that racist language is not free speech, but in fact constitutes illegal racial discrimination (the courts have also ruled that video footage of racist rallies posted on the Internet is illegal) – but the country still has yet to pass a comprehensive law against hate speech, despite the repeated urgings of the United Nations and human rights groups. But that’s all changing right now. In response to hate speech demonstrations primarily targeting ethnic Koreans (these racist demonstrations are tiny, and usually about the size of a typical Westboro Baptist Church demonstration) and hate speech on the Japanese Internet, thousands and thousands of people – citizens, human rights activists, politicians, lawyers, musicians, journalists, and others from all walks of life – have been persistently lobbying, protesting, petitioning, and campaigning for the Japanese government to pass strong, comprehensive legislation outlawing all forms of hate speech, including hate speech disseminated through the Internet.

Thousands and thousands of people have participated in the March on Tokyo for Freedom, Tokyo No Hate 2014, and numerous other public anti-hate speech marches and demonstrations (heavily inspired by the historical civil rights marches of the United States) calling on the Japanese government to sincerely adhere to international human rights law and outlaw hate speech. South Korea, the United Nations, and human rights organizations have assured Japan that hate speech is not freedom of expression, but is, in fact, a clear form of violence which must be subject to strong legal sanctions.  Human rights organizations have conducted polls which found that all politicians in Japan believe that hate speech should be outlawed. Not only are human rights groups loudly campaigning to enact hate speech legislation in Japan, but entire groups and committees have been created for the sole purpose of combating hate speech through the law, and Japan has been working with South Korea and the United Nations to eliminate hate speech in Japan. Even small-government libertarians and hardcore far-right ultra-nationalists (including outright neo-Nazis) have been publicly calling for a crackdown on hate speech, citing the need to reject discrimination, to ensure that bigotry has no place in a free and democratic society, and to balance freedom of expression against the basic human rights of others.

Why can Japan – a society typically derided as racist and xenophobic – understand the need to crack down on hate speech through the law, but not the United States, which supposedly prides itself on racial diversity and racial tolerance? Japan’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression too, but, like the rest of the world, they understand that hate speech is NOT freedom of expression.  By refusing to outlaw hate speech, the United States is sending the message to the rest of the world that we approve of hatred and intolerance. When we allow bigots to speak out openly, the rest of the world sees this and associates this with our country. We give the impression that we are a country of violent, hateful bigots and that our government has no problem with violent, hateful bigotry. Is this really what we want to be?

Hate Speech Is Violence

Like any sensible person, I am a strong believer in the unalienable right to freedom of speech and I understand that defending freedom of speech is the most important when it’s speech that many people do not want to hear (like, for example, pro-LGBT speech in Russia). Freedom of speech is the core of any democratic society, and it’s important that freedom of speech be strongly respected and upheld. Censorship in all of its forms is something that must always be fiercely opposed. But we must never confuse hate speech with freedom of speech. Speech that offends, insults, demeans, threatens, disrespects, incites hatred or violence, and/or violates basic human rights and freedoms has absolutely no place in even the freest society. In fact, it has no place in any free society, as bigotry is fundamentally anti-freedom by its very nature. The human right to freedom of speech must always be balanced against the human rights to dignity, respect, honor, non-discrimination, and freedom from hatred. Civilized countries consider hate speech to be among the most serious crimes around, with many countries even placing it on par with murder. In some countries, people are automatically declared guilty of hate speech and other hate crimes unless they can absolutely prove their innocence beyond any reasonable doubt. The principle of guilty until proven innocent may seem a bit harsh to some, but it makes sense when you consider how severe the crime of hate speech is – it is a crime that simply cannot be tolerated in a democracy. Hate speech is not merely speech, but is, in fact, a form of violence and the international community has established hate speech to be a form of violence many times.  Hate speech doesn’t merely CAUSE violence.  Hate speech IS violence.

Bigotry has no place in a free society. It is fundamentally anti-freedom by nature, and its proliferation violates the basic freedoms of vulnerable minorities as recognized by the international community. Vulnerable minorities are much less free when bigotry is allowed to exist.  A society that claims to uphold human rights cannot allow the proliferation of speech that opposes these fundamental human rights. In many countries, not only is bigotry illegal, but so is speech that offends or insults in general, along with speech that voices approval of anti-democratic, anti-freedom, and/or totalitarian ideologies and propaganda for war. Civilized countries not only have laws against hate speech, but also have laws against things like group defamation, membership in un-democratic organizations, and attempting to suppress fundamental rights and freedoms (fascist Slovakian politician Marian Kotleba was charged with this, for example).  Nobody has the freedom to take away basic freedoms from others and nobody has the right to oppose human rights.

In civilized democratic countries, organizations and political parties which pose a threat to liberty, freedom, human rights, and democracy are outlawed.  For example, Germany faced strong criticism from human rights groups and from the international human rights community when it failed to ban the far-right NPD party, and human rights activists in Europe are currently working around the clock to place Europe-wide bans on Golden Dawn, Jobbik, Sweden Democrats, and other un-democratic parties which pose a serious threat to freedom and democracy.  But, in the US, fascist political parties like the Republican Party, the Constitution Party, and the Libertarian Party are allowed to freely exist and to spread their hateful ideology, even though these parties oppose fundamental human rights and thus have absolutely no place in a democratic society. What kind of democracy allows the free existence of un-democratic parties? No society that genuinely values democracy and human rights would allow people to oppose democracy and human rights. That simply isn’t how these things work.

Australia As The Model To Look Toward

For an example of a human rights-based society that the US should look to emulate, we can look at Australia. Recently, the Tony Abbott government proposed amending the country’s federal anti-discrimination law, which makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate vulnerable ethnic minorities. The Abbott government wanted to replace the words “offend”, “insult”, and “humiliate” with the word “vilify”, with “vilify” being defined as “inciting hatred”. This would effectively water down protections against racist hate speech, setting the standard for illegal hate speech lower than before. Although most libertarians agreed that it should always be illegal to offend or insult ethnic minorities, a few ultra-libertarians believed that ONLY inciting hatred should be illegal rather than merely offending or insulting ethnic minorities.  This was seen as recklessly removing all limitations on “freedom of speech” at the expense of vulnerable ethnic minorities, and many people warned that race riots and even genocide could potentially occur as a result.  Immediately, this proposal to weaken federal hate speech legislation sparked massive backlash from all sides. Human rights activists and human rights groups were the most vocal in their objections, but journalists, authors, artists, politicians, and citizens alike all joined up against the proposal, with campaigns and protests being launched all across the country. The proposal to water down protections against racist hate speech outraged all political parties, including leftists, centrists, right-wingers, libertarians, and more. The people who proposed watering down the federal hate speech laws were universally denounced as racists championing bigotry.  Many of Australia’s most prominent free speech activists spoke up against the proposed changes, citing the need to balance freedom of speech against the basic human rights to dignity and non-discrimination along with citing international human rights law. Eventually, the government relented and chose not to change the law. This was widely celebrated in Australia as a victory for tolerance, freedom, democracy, and human rights.  “Respect Wins” immediately went viral on social media in celebration of the victory against hate speech.  Likewise, Australia’s human rights defenders have also worked to ban the proliferation of rape culture in the country, including working to ban the camper car company Wicked Campers, which uses vulgar slogans that incite rape, degrade women, and promote rape culture.

During the administration of Julia Gillard, Australia had a much more human rights-friendly government. A proposed human rights law called the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill would have made it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate people on the basis of age, sex, race, sexual orientation, disability, gender identity, immigrant status, marital/relationship status, political opinion, social origin, religion, nationality, medical history, family responsibilities, or industrial history – and the law stated that people would be declared guilty until proven innocent, effectively requiring people to prove in court that they did not violate the fundamental human rights of others with hate speech. The law also would have outlawed any expression of religious belief if someone were offended by it. Although most human rights activists agreed that the law did not go nearly far enough, it had wide support among the left, the center, and much of the right, and was backed by Australia’s federal government Australian Human Rights Commission. The only reason that the law failed to pass was because of the relentless efforts of the Rupert Murdoch-owned anti-Gillard media, which the law would have silenced. Nevertheless, the law almost passed, and its existence at all demonstrates that Australia is a strongly human rights-oriented culture which the United States should view as an example.

Hate Speech Causes Violence

The United States was founded on principles of basic individual freedoms, essential civil liberties, and fundamental human rights. But, by failing to prosecute hate speech – in blatant violation of international human rights conventions – we are abandoning these core principles which our Constitution is based upon. It’s long past time for the United States to finally uphold its international obligations and join the rest of the world by outlawing all forms of hate speech and all speech that opposes basic human rights. The United States is supposed to be a liberal democracy. It’s time for us to start acting like one.  The basic right to human dignity is the most essential right in existence.  It is a fundamental human right, civil right, and natural right.  But it’s a right that the United States refuses to respect in any form.  That needs to change, and it needs to change now.

We’ve all seen what can happen when hate speech is allowed to flourish. Hate speech has directly led to the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Srebrenica massacre, and many other genocides and war crimes throughout history. Hate speech has been a key influence on numerous far-right terrorists and murderers, including Anders Behring Breivik, Timothy McVeigh, and Jared Lee Loughner. By allowing hate speech to flourish, the United States is giving the go-ahead for tragedies like these to happen again and again.  Hate speech has already had disastrous consequences for the United States.  A recent example would be the “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube video – a disgusting Islamophobic video blatantly inciting hatred and violence against Muslims.  This video directly led to numerous riots across the Islamic world, including an attack on a US embassy in Benghazi that left four dead.  The bigots responsible for making this video are every bit as responsible for the deaths of those people as the killers are.  In a civilized country, the bigots responsible for the video would be jailed for life.  But, in the United States, their vile bigotry is protected as “free speech”, even though the United Nations itself stressed that the video clearly constituted an incitement to racist hatred and violence, and thus was absolutely not freedom of speech.

The United States has always been far behind the times when it comes to protecting basic human rights. When human rights activists (including the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination) were attempting to have Salman Rushdie’s Islamophobic book The Satanic Verses banned for inciting hatred and violence against Muslims, the US continued to allow the book to be sold. When human rights activists were campaigning to ban Jamaican murder music (homophobic reggae music which incites hatred, violence, and murder against LGBT people), the United States continued to allow its existence. When human rights activists were campaigning to ban Japanese rape games like RapeLay – which incite rape and violate the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – the United States continued to allow them to be sold. When human rights activists were campaigning to get the disgusting “Innocence of Muslims” video banned from the Internet (a video which, the United Nations emphasized, clearly incites hatred and violence against Muslims), the United States refused to ban it. Human rights activists are now campaigning to outlaw anti-feminist speech, but the United States will undoubtedly continue to allow people to demean feminism and to reject gender equality in the name of “free speech”, even though international law clearly establishes multiple times that hate speech is not free speech.

Stopping the spread of hate speech online and protecting vulnerable minorities from being exposed to online hate speech has been made a top priority of the international human rights community.  The human rights bodies of the United Nations have made cracking down on Internet hate speech one of their biggest goals, and groups like the No Hate Speech Movement for Human Rights Online have been set up by organizations like the Council of Europe.  But protecting human rights online is incredibly difficult when the United States – which controls most of the Internet – refuses to pass human rights legislation and instead allows the proliferation of online hatred and discrimination as “free speech”, in clear defiance of international human rights conventions.

A Way Ahead For The U.S.

In order to establish ourselves as a country that sincerely respects fundamental human rights, democratic freedoms, and individual liberties, America needs to pass basic human rights legislation – such as a Human Rights Act – that outlaws, among other things:

  1. Speech which offends, insults, demeans, threatens, disrespects, discriminates against, and/or incites hatred or violence against a person or a group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, color, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or sexual activity, gender identity or gender expression, disability, language, language ability, ideology or opinion, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, hair color, etc.), mental capacity, and/or any other comparable distinction. In cases where hate speech is aggravated – such as incitement to genocide – prison sentences should be even longer.
  2. The spreading of misinformation, including climate change denial, denial of war crimes and genocides (especially Holocaust denial), conspiracy theories, anti-vaccine propaganda, and general nonsense.
  3. Anti-feminist, anti-multicultural, anti-immigration, and/or anti-equality ideology.
  4. Insulting, disrespectful, and/or offensive speech in general and speech that violates the dignity of people. This would include, for example, jokes about tragedies along with insults and derogatory/disrespectful comments about any person, group, place, or thing.
  5. Speech that disparages the memory of deceased persons.
  6. Speech that voices approval of oppressive, anti-freedom, anti-democratic, and/or totalitarian ideologies. This would include, for example, speech that opposes a woman’s right to have an abortion and speech that approves of Israeli apartheid in Palestine.
  7. Speech that opposes any human rights. This would mean that anyone saying that hate speech shouldn’t be against the law would be prosecuted, since hate speech is universally recognized as an injustice and a human rights violation. It would also include propaganda for war, which is illegal under international human rights law.
  8. Speech that incites, instructs, assists, condones, celebrates, justifies, glorifies, advocates, or threatens violence and/or law-breaking and speech that undermines the rule of law. This would include, for example, the advocacy of gun ownership (which would be classified as incitement to violence in any civilized country). In a civilized society, advocating violence is no different than actually committing the violence yourself. Only in the US is inciting violence and murder – even inciting violence and murder against minorities – considered to be “free speech”.
  9. Speech that undermines the authority of the state and/or interferes with the state’s ability to properly function and do its job. This would also include speech that undermines the authority of the United Nations and/or international law.
  10. Speech that objectifies women and/or reduces them to their sexual dimension, such as pornography and catcalling.
  11. Speech that promotes unacceptable ideas, such as un-democratic ideologies and ideologies that oppose freedom. This would also apply to promoting people who promote or promoted unacceptable ideas. For example, in the case of The Jewish community of Oslo et al. v. Norway, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination ruled that glorifying Hitler not only constitutes incitement to Hatred, but also incitement to violence.
  12. Speech that harms and/or divides society in general, including speech that damages social cohesion.
  13. Symbols associated with hateful and/or un-democratic ideologies, such as Nazi swastikas and Confederate flags.
  14. Gestures and salutes associated with hateful and/or un-democratic ideologies, such as fascist salutes.
  15. Speech which constitutes microaggressions against vulnerable minorities.
  16. Images or recordings of any crimes.
  17. Speech which may lead to tensions with other nations and/or upset people in other nations.
  18. Speech which is found to be blasphemous towards minority religions.
  19. Depictions of indecent violence (especially violence against women) and/or other offensive content.
  20. Speech which is found to be irresponsible, unethical, antisocial, hurtful, impolite, uncivil, abusive, distasteful, and/or unacceptable in general.

Like all rights, the right to freedom of speech comes with great responsibility and it must be balanced against other rights. All of these things go far outside the realm of free speech, and all other advanced democracies have already passed laws against most of these things in order to protect basic human rights. Outlawing these forms of hatred does not interfere with the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech, and it would not violate the First Amendment in any way since hate speech is not freedom of speech in any way, shape, or form.  Nobody has the right to take away rights from others.  Nobody has the freedom to take away freedoms from others.

Anyone guilty of hate speech – which should carry criminal penalties of 25 years to life – should be sent to special prisons designed to re-educate them and to instill values of tolerance, freedom, democracy, and human rights in them. Prison is about punishment, but it’s also about changing the behavior of criminals. We often tend to forget this in our country. Merely sending bigots to ordinary prisons is not good enough – they need to be sent to special prisons for bigots, which will re-educate them.  The United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the international human rights community have stressed many times that education and re-education are crucial for eliminating hatred and protecting human rights.  In addition to requiring prisons to re-educate bigots, America also needs to pass laws mandating that all schools and all media outlets spend an allotted amount of time each day to promoting tolerance, freedom, democracy, and human rights.

Europe provides an example for the US to follow in this regard.  Working with the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties along with the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, human rights defenders in the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation are working right now to enact the Framework National Statute for the Promotion of Tolerance in Europe.  This new human rights law will set up state surveillance of intolerant citizens, including those who voice anti-feminist views and those who voice overt approval of a totalitarian ideology.  Intolerant citizens will not only be arrested, but will also be sent to special re-education facilities designed to instill values of tolerance, and the law will also require all media outlets to promote a climate of tolerance.  The law carefully takes freedom of expression into account.  Since hate speech is not freedom of expression, the law does not violate the sacred right to freedom of expression in any way.  Likewise, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that the right to not be exposed to hate speech must be taken seriously by all democratic countries – for example, in one ruling, they ruled that government regulation of speech was “necessary in a democratic society” in order to guarantee the rights of others “to protection from gratuitous insults to their religious feelings.”  This is something that the US needs to follow unless we want to continue being viewed as a backwards country with zero protections for basic human rights and freedoms.  Only in America would anyone consider hate speech to be “liberty”, even though hate speech is the exact opposite of liberty.

Freedom of expression – defined by international human rights law as the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers – would remain sacrosanct. Discrimination and hate speech are not free speech, and hate is not an “opinion”. International human rights law clearly establishes multiple times that hateful speech must be outlawed in order to protect human rights, and the UN has repeatedly stressed that this does not restrict freedom of speech in any way.  All hate speech – whether it’s in public or in private – is something that must always be strictly prosecuted in a democratic country that respects human rights.  Every democratic country guarantees freedom of speech, but the United States is the only country that’s twisted and backwards enough to believe that hate speech is “freedom of speech”.  Hate speech is not “freedom of speech” in any way, but is, in fact, clear violence against groups that already face widespread persecution.

The truthfulness or factual nature of statements should not matter. Numerous countries have ruled that completely true, balanced, and factual statements can be outlawed as hate speech if they are likely to stir up hatred, or if vulnerable minorities are likely to take offense to them. As such, any kind of speech – whether true or otherwise – which could potentially paint vulnerable minorities in a negative light must always be vigorously prosecuted in order to protect human rights.

These laws would not apply to members of vulnerable minority groups. Rather, they would protect said minority groups from manifestations of hatred which constitute a form of violence and oppression under international human rights law. Punishment would also vary depending on which group the hate speech is directed at. Obviously, advocating the murder of police is certainly not the same thing as advocating the murder of LGBT people, and no sensible person would ever suggest that the two things should be considered the same. Hate speech laws always take different groups into account, and they always consider the harm to society caused by the individual cases of hate speech. In my example, anger against police is something that can certainly be justified, while inciting hatred or violence against LGBT people is something that can never be justified in any way and has absolutely no place in a free and civilized democracy.  Hate speech laws exist to protect vulnerable groups from hatred.  In Canada, for example, inciting hatred or advocating genocide against protected groups is a criminal offense.  So, you can advocate genocide against homophobes, but advocating genocide against LGBT people would land you in prison.  This is because LGBT people are a vulnerable group in need of legal protections against hatred, whereas homophobes are most assuredly not, as they belong in prison.

Hate speech is universally recognized as a violation of basic human rights and particularly the basic human rights of vulnerable minorities, including by the United States itself. The United States condemns hate speech in other countries and encourages the use of hate speech legislation in other countries. So why do we refuse to implement these basic human rights protections in our own country? Why is the US so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to protecting the most essential human rights and democratic freedoms?  The human right to dignity is perhaps the most fundamental human right there is, yet the US continually allows its citizens to trample all over the basic human dignity of others in the name of “free speech”.  Until the US makes protecting human dignity a priority, it will remain far behind the rest of the world in terms of basic human rights.

In all other countries – especially liberal democracies – hate speech laws have universal support, from the left-wing to the center to the right-wing to libertarians to monarchists to fascists. Every single man, woman, and child outside of the US strongly supports laws against hate speech. Even most racists and bigots still believe that hate speech should be against the law, and they CERTAINLY agree that extreme forms of hate speech (e.g. calls for violence or genocide against minorities) should always carry strong criminal penalties. Why do racists and Nazis in other countries have more respect for fundamental human rights than American “liberals” do? In civilized and democratic countries, a politician saying that hate speech shouldn’t be illegal would be the equivalent of a politician saying that murder shouldn’t be illegal. It’s something that nobody would ever propose – and, if they did, the backlash would be extreme and universal. Even the most extreme free speech activists outside of the US strongly support laws against hate speech, as they understand that freedom of speech must be balanced against fundamental human rights.

Minorities already face widespread discrimination in our society. America’s Orwellian notion of “freedom of speech” as protecting hateful speech is even more abhorrent when you consider how the voices of minorities are persistently marginalized and how they are routinely denied a voice while the rich and powerful are allowed to demean and dehumanize minorities under the guise of “free speech”. How are vulnerable minorities expected to speak up about the injustices that they face when they are always shouted down by the hateful voices of the rich and powerful? Hate speech is not “freedom” to people of color who face constant racist abuse, transgender people who receive non-stop harassment and misgendering, or women visiting abortion clinics who get heckled and called murderers.  Not to mention, the right of minorities to NOT be exposed to hate speech is infinitely more important than the so-called “right” of bigots to spew hate speech at minorities. Freedom of speech is extremely important, but so are basic human rights and human decency.

Hate speech in the US is not a fringe phenomenon – not in the least. It’s not just little-known individuals like this University of Iowa “artist” who spread hate speech in America. Organizations like Fox News and individuals like Bill Maher routinely spread hate speech against Muslims, against immigrants, against our government and our President, and more – all with zero respect whatsoever for the most fundamental human rights and freedoms. This cannot continue to persist in a country that claims to be free and democratic.  In a truly free and civilized country, Bill Maher, for example, would have been sent to prison for inciting racist hatred and violence against Muslims, who already face high levels of hatred and violence in American society.

America also needs a government press regulating body to ensure that the media and the press are used responsibly.  In the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, there has been much progress in establishing strong government press regulation.  Journalists have led the way, writing column after column about the need for press regulation and persistently lobbying for it.  Liberty – the UK’s biggest civil liberties organization – has supported the Leveson Inquiry, which aims to establish government control and licensing of the press in the UK.  Real journalists in the UK have unanimously supported the plans for government press regulation, citing the need to stop right-wing tabloids from spreading lies.  In Australia, the Australian Press Council – an industry-established regulatory body created to stop the government from interfering in the media – has repeatedly criticized the Rupert Murdoch-owned media’s right-wing slant.  The irresponsible nature of the Rupert Murdoch-owned media in Australia has led to the Finkelstein Inquiry, which aims to establish government control and licensing of the press in Australia.  Almost every single real journalist in Australia has spoken out about the need for government press regulation.  And, in New Zealand, proponents of ethical journalism are pushing for the creation of a News Media Standards Authority (NMSA) to license and regulate the press.  This is because, in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, the press is dominated by irresponsible and unethical outlets like The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Australian, and other right-wing papers which spread lies and hatred as “journalism” and consistently seek to undermine progressive policies put forth by the government.  This is comparable to how the American media is dominated by propaganda like Fox News and Breitbart, which would be shut down in a country where responsible journalism was enforced.  Serious journalists understand the need for licensing of the press in order to stop right-wingers from using the press to spread their propaganda.  The press must be used in an ethical and responsible manner.

America is the only country in the world that does not have any kind of legislation against hate speech. Even countries like Jordan, Turkey, India, Russia, and Indonesia have laws against hate speech.  Why do these so-called “backwards” countries respect basic human rights more than a supposedly free and liberated country like the US does?  The US has ruled that not only is hate speech protected by the First Amendment, but so is advocating violence – in the view of the United States Supreme Court, these things are supposedly part of a “marketplace of ideas” and are “free speech”.  America’s continued insistence that hatred, oppression, and discrimination are “free speech” makes us look completely twisted and backwards to the rest of the world. It’s time to finally bring America up to date on human rights. We need to outlaw all forms of hate speech and we need to set up federal and state Equality and Human Rights Commissions to strictly regulate all press and media to ensure staunch compliance with human rights, and to investigate, prosecute, and enact surveillance of people who spread hatred, intolerance, and other anti-freedom ideologies which have no place in a modern democracy.

We are not talking about censorship here.  We are talking about cracking down on hate speech and protecting basic human rights.  Nobody in a democratic society should ever have the ability to incite hatred and violence against vulnerable minorities. There is zero logical reason that anyone should ever have the right to spread hatred.  Inciting hatred and violence against minorities has absolutely nothing to do with a “marketplace of ideas”.  In a civilized country with democracy and human rights, the man responsible for this disgusting KKK display would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law under human rights legislation. Only in America do we allow this hatred to exist as “free speech”. Well, I say: no more. It’s time for America to finally join the free, civilized, and democratic world. It’s time for America to stop approving of hatred and bigotry. Hate speech is NOT free speech. Human rights and democracy must finally be respected in this country. The United States must start to finally uphold basic human rights if it’s truly going to call itself a free and liberated country.  Every other country already has laws against hate speech – ESPECIALLY advanced first-world democracies.  America is an extreme anomaly in the world when it comes to failing to protect basic human rights.

Finally, the biggest reason why we need to oppose bigotry is simply because it is wrong. Bigotry has absolutely no place in a society supposedly built on tolerance, respect, diversity, dignity, multiculturalism, and human rights.  Hate speech goes against the very core principles of our Constitution.  America is supposed to lead the world in human rights, but, when it comes to fulfilling even the most basic and fundamental of international human rights obligations, we are falling far behind the rest of the world.  Every other liberal democracy has laws against hate speech, and for good reason, too.  Hate speech deeply hurts anyone with a conscience, and it destroys the very fabric of society – a society where people are supposed to live together in peace and harmony.  Freedom of speech must never be a license to maliciously hurt people.  Not only must freedom of speech be respected, but so must human dignity and social cohesion.  We cannot continue to sit back and approve of hatred and bigotry. We cannot continue to tolerate intolerance. We need to combat the evils of bigotry head-on if we are to call ourselves a bastion of freedom and democracy. We need to fight against all forms of bigotry, defend democratic ideals, and protect civil rights for all.  Otherwise, we are truly no better than Nazi Germany was. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

featured image – Screenshot via Twitter

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Tanya Cohen

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