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mattbrowne's avatar

Promoting hatred and mass murder and totalitarian systems - Should this be legal and protected by the freedom of speech?

Asked by mattbrowne (31719points) May 9th, 2009

From Wikipedia: Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to denote not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are closely related to, yet distinct from, the concept of freedom of thought. In practice, the right to freedom of speech is not absolute in any country and the right is commonly subject to limitations, such as on “hate speech”.

In the United States freedom of expression is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. There are several exceptions to this general rule, including copyright protection, the Miller test for obscenity and greater regulation of so-called commercial speech, such as advertising.

Freedom of expression is granted by Article 5 of the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany: Every person shall have the right freely to express and disseminate his opinions in speech, writing, and pictures and to inform himself without hindrance from generally accessible sources. Freedom of the press and freedom of reporting by means of broadcasts and films shall be guaranteed. There shall be no censorship. These rights shall find their limits in the provisions of general laws, in provisions for the protection of young persons, and in the right to personal honor. Art and scholarship, research, and teaching shall be free. The freedom of teaching shall not release any person from allegiance to the constitution. The most important and sometimes controversial regulations limiting freedom of speech and freedom of the press can be found in Germany’s criminal code: Hate speech may be punishable if against segments of the population and in a manner that is capable of disturbing the public peace, including racist agitation and antisemitism. Holocaust denial is punishable according to Section 130 subsection 3.

What is your opinion? Should there be no restrictions to freedom of speech at all? Promoting Nazism for example is legal in the United States, but illegal in Israel or Germany. What about imams preaching jihad? Should this be protected by freedom of speech?

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15 Answers

Bagardbilla's avatar

In a free society (presumably where uncensered information is readily available) YES! for every idea should stand on it’s own merit!
And free people have the right to choose amongst em’!

oratio's avatar

My short answer to the main Q. is YES.

The way I see it is that if you want freedom of speech, you have to accept that malicious or misguided people use their rights of freedom to speak. It is our responsibility to speak up in turn. This seems to be the situation with Michael Savage for example. In my country the swastika was banned publicly, as I believe it is in Germany. That is a bit unfortunate. Not only cause it impedes some aspects of freedom of expression, but it is a most sacred symbol of the indus cultures since many thousands of years. Should we charge a hindu for carrying a t-shirt with a swastika?

When you restrict democracy you can get things like the patriot act, the EU telecom package, video and internet surveillance.

In a functioning democracy the people deserve their elected leaders, cause they put them there, especially if they re-elect them. It may turn out to be a mistake, but thats the nature of democracy. As it should be. I think we should be allowed to chose our leaders ourselves and that also means who to listen to.

We should deserve to chose who to listen to, and to have the freedom to protest. When legislation chooses for me, not only has those people they restrict, lost some freedom, but so have I.

I don’t want to live in a society where you can’t get murdered, raped, assaulted, insulted and badgered in public. This is part of the package of freedom. We have to fight it, while still retaining our rights, not take away freedom to eliminate the risks of living. The soviet union had an extremely low crime rate, and the mafia of Sicily was squashed under Mussolini.

If we want to preserve our way of living that our forefathers fought for, we have to allow every aspect of this fragile freedom.

I have a three year old hanging on my arm to go out and play ball, while he refuses to go to the toilet, so this comment may be a bit messed up

wundayatta's avatar

I think there’s a difference between freedom of speech, and an attempt to intimidate or create fear for specific individuals’ lives.

I think there should be absolute freedom of speech. I think people can advocate the most heinous ideas, such as saying that an entire continent of people should be dead, or picking on whatever group they want.

However, as soon as they aim that kind of speech at specific individuals, either by name or in person, then I think it crosses over into intimation and threats, and becomes a crime. The line between pure speech and intimidation could probably be very fine on occasion, but that’s how I see it. There are always difficult issues in law.

If speech is free, then the rest of society knows what it’s up against. It’s the ideas being disseminated in private that should concern us.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, evil is part of the package of freedom. But how can we fight it? Yes, we should also be concerned about ideas being disseminated in private. How can we deal with this? Recruiting police informers?

cwilbur's avatar

You fight it by using the freedom of speech.

Instead of banning Mein Kampf, let people read it, and then let them read about how much damage those ideas caused when they were put into practice.

There’s no public/private distinction here. People are free to have whatever whack-job ideas they want to have, and to share them with whoever they want. Acts are illegal, not thoughts.

knitfroggy's avatar

If you limit free speech, it’s not free speech anymore.

If you don’t want to hear what someone is saying, don’t listen.

mattbrowne's avatar

If it’s so clear-cut why does the freedom of speech in the US vary widely from one state to the next?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Freedom of speech just means you can’t be jailed for saying the things you do.
The Westboro Church is free to spout their hatred but certain places such as businesses have the right to expel them from their stores if they disrupt business.

dalepetrie's avatar

My understanding of what pure free speech is, or should be, and what I believe we should go after involves a very specific line in the sand. It is OK to speak your mind, no matter how wrong you might be, period. It is not OK to incite people to commit a crime. So using the Nazi example, I see no reason why Nazis should not be able to say they’re Nazis, and explain to anyone who will listen whey they are Nazis and why they think the people listening should become Nazis. However, that crosses the line when they suggest harming someone else. The difference basically is the difference between “I hate Jews/Niggers/Other” and “let’s kill some Jews/Niggers/Other”. Both are awful, wrong, and stupid, but one simply identifies you as a stupid person, the other incites violence against someone. So, promoting hatred…well if you say “I hate, and I think you should hate too,” well, as I see it, most people don’t buy into that message, and those who do, honestly, we’re better off if those people DO speak their minds, so we know who they are. If you think something, if you believe something, in a free society that believes in free speech, you should have every right to express yourself, just as the rest of us have every right to either listen to you or tune you out. But calls to action go beyond speaking one’s mind. To me it’s very clear cut.

As for why it varies from one state to the next, no one has really perfected it yet, just like any other laws…there is the logic upon which it is based, and there’s the political process it takes to get a law enacted and enforced. What I speak of is the theoretical best case scenario government that follows the philosophy of “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

tinyfaery's avatar

First of all, we do not currently have absolute free speech in America; let’s not forget that we can’t yell fire in a crowded theater and we can’t slander or use libel against someone.

So, since our speech is limited already, why be against limiting hate speech, or speech that is meant to be inflamatory and incite violence? I agree with some of the German laws limiting speech that has no redeeming value.

btko's avatar

No I disagree – there are no fundamental “rights”. The right to freedom of speech has limits; as it should.

cwilbur's avatar

@mattbrowne: Freedom of speech is guaranteed at the federal level, and does not vary from state to state.

@tinyfaery: Slander and libel are civil matters; they’re part of the freedom of speech, because they mean that you can be held responsible for what you say. You say something slanderous or write something libelous, and you can get sued for it. That’s a very different matter than having something you say be a criminal act based on its content.

And making the content of speech inherently criminal is a very dangerous thing to do. It’s not so far from making hate speech criminal as it is from making discussions of any orientation other than heterosexuality criminal—it just depends on who’s defining appropriate speech.

mattbrowne's avatar

@cwilbur – I was referring to this:

Within the U.S., the freedom of speech also varies widely from one state to the next. Of all states, the state of California permits its citizens the broadest possible range of free speech under the state constitution (whose declaration of rights includes a strong affirmative right to free speech in addition to a negative right paralleling the federal prohibition on laws that abridge the freedom of speech). More specifically, through the Pruneyard case ruling, California residents may peacefully exercise their right to free speech in parts of private shopping centers regularly held open to the public.

Hacksawhawk's avatar

There is one difficulty with all the examples given in the answers: they are too obvious. It’s easy to see that hate speech or ideas that proclaim that Nazis are a superior race and all Jews should perish are morally wrong and completely irrelevant to ‘the bigger truth’.
Now if ones starts to draw a line where one should limit freedom of speech because of those examples, bear in mind then that in reality it happens a lot more often that the cases aren’t so blatantly obvious. The problem with drawing lines is that you run the risk of suppressing the (maybe beneficial) truth.
Now the answer given on wether you should or should not draw such a line depends solely on wether you strive more towards ‘the truth’ or more towards the safety of the people. I leave this question open.
Also note that when given freedom of speech it’s easier to show that an opinion is wrong, because otherwise by suppressing an opinion it might gain power ‘underground’ and thus come out after a while much more harmful.

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