Thank goodness, even hate speech is protected

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Hate speech to you might be music to someone else’s ears.

Depending on one’s perspective, a threat to society might just be the glue that holds civilization together.

This is the beauty and the beast of free speech. While hate crimes can put people in prison for years, hate speech is protected. U.S. courts have consistently kept open the doors allowing citizens to say what’s on their minds — even when many would consider those utterances reprehensible and unacceptable.

Early this morning, some conscientious citizens were scheduled to rally outside a Coeur d’Alene restaurant. Their objection wasn’t the pancakes or eggs; it was the bread and butter of free speech in America.

Inside the restaurant, a local woman with views that many consider extremist and some condemn as dangerous was the scheduled speaker for another group of conscientious citizens, the local Friday morning gathering of diehard Republicans. The event was canceled even though the North Idaho Pachyderm Club wanted to hear what the woman had to say — and, frankly, so did we. Outside, the protesters had planned to peacefully remind people that “Idaho is too great for hate” without preventing anyone access to the event.

It could have been a brilliant illustration of the freedom of speech at work.

Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court tackled one of the most explosive tenets of hate speech with which most reasonable, compassionate individuals could sympathize.

“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,’” the Supreme Court wrote.

In an opinion piece penned last October for The Chicago Tribune, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean and professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, wrote:

“History shows that punishing hate speech risks creating martyrs and rallying support. There is no evidence that banning hate speech does anything to lessen the presence in society of racist ideas or even racist crimes. The law is clear that hate-motivated crimes can be subject to enhanced punishments; it is just the speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”

Ladies and gentlemen, when you hear or read something you find reprehensible, celebrate the fact that you’re free to criticize the hell out of it.

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