The idea that the government might cut off hateful or propaganda filled-speech is counter to the idea that America cherishes, that all people are created equal with unalienable rights, one of which is the right to voice unpopular ideas. Racist speech on campus or in the public square is uninviting, but acceptable, under certain circumstances. In Charles R. Lawrence III’s essay, “On Racist Speech,” Lawrence argues against the regulation of speech that he deems inflammatory, however he does seem to play both sides of the fence.
He argues against regulation of racist speech by the government that does not contribute to the overall health of the minority community discourages censorship that could lead to a duct taping over certain mouths in America, in effect he would be happy if the majority populations simply let the minorities have a little more of the crumbs. The more unpopular an ideas is the less likely people will view the idea is a net benefit to humanity.
Fostering free speech in the America, in the Court room and on college campuses would bring about a new paradigm in relations between minority and majority groups because they may start to understand each other in a more humane way. Lawrence suggests that a community of fair-minded people will self-regulate speech. The question of self regulation becomes an easily misunderstood idea, if it is not rectified with sanctions.
Ku Klux Klan members (for instance) have no moral concern over the groups that they belittle and harass. Instead of demonizing the racist groups, Lawrence calls for counter rallies at University to bring the atmosphere of free speech to every citizen. Counter demonstrations are a healthy and necessary activity; however, the community, as a whole, needs to send a message that they strive for is positive, while the racist groups represent negativity.
According to Lawrence, a distinction is drawn on campus “between ideas [that] are presented at times and places and manners that provide an opportunity for reasoned rebuttal or escape from immediate injury,” and ideas that are used as “assault weapons” (64). If counter demonstrations alone were sufficient to combat racism, then laws or university regulations would not be needed.
Kermit Roosevelt III in his article “States as Speakers” offers another opinion somewhat piggy backing on the matter of restricted free speech, he suggests that “the concept that government may restrict speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment” (62) If one were to intentionally violate the university’s regulations, then one voluntarily gives away his or her privilege to free speech; however, by forbidding the expression of racist speech on campus, or in workplaces, responsible authorities do not violate the First Amendment.
Institutionalized racism as exemplified by the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education, and it is a lesson to all Americans. The Supreme Court struck down the concept of “separate but equal,” which states that segregation is socially just as long as whites and nonwhites receive equal resources (Lawrence 62). Not surprisingly, this is not how segregation works. Some members of the dominant class (the white majority) did not like the idea of integrated schools, but they were unable to prevent societal change because the winds of change were blowing against them.
Maud Blair illustrates in her article “Whiteness as institutionalized racism as conspiracy: understanding the paradigm” suggests that “Whiteness is an ideology or social creation, a signifier of power and privilege in both global and local terms. Whiteness is not … to be mistaken for White people although the two are of course closely linked. This civil rights movement continued despite the segregationist and supporters of separate but equal and the so called “whiteness stereotype”.
Lawrence combats this idea with a remedy of his own, while arguing to protect minorities we must start “eliminating the system of signs and symbols that signal the inferiority of blacks” (62). Interestingly, Lawrence seems to play both sides of the fence he wants to appease the writes community while toying with minorities in a deceitful way. He proposes that it may even be elitist or judgmental to protect minorities; he wonders how the unpersecuted can know the effects of persecution (62).
The real issue is keeping protective measures from going so far that those who enact such measures end up doing exactly what racists are guilty of; that is, assuming that minorities are inferior and incapable of defending themselves. While the idea of reducing hate speech is an ideal one, some minorities understand that allowing Neo Nazis who demonstrate in the public square, while unpleasant and hurtful, is a necessary evil.
Racists hate mongers, and bigots of all kinds are intent on destroying the sense of safety that the minority community should be able to enjoy. It is never acceptable for a racist group to intimidate other minority groups without penalty. The penalty should not be the elimination of all speech because a few fanatics want to have their way. While many minority groups do not support the censorship of free speech, some Americans acknowledge the result of emotional and physical pain that might be inflicted upon the intended targets of a racist demonstration.
Racist demonstrations are a means of intimidation and oppression. Lawrence argues how the regulation of hateful speech “cannot be anticipated or avoided,” but states that announcing the time and location of racist demonstrations “would give minority-group members and their allies the chance to avoid the speech altogether” (63). The protection of ritualized racism, demonstrations, rallies, and marches, is therefore, acceptable to Lawrence.
Sustaining Lawrence’s assertions, Jeffery Liew author of the article “Hate Speech: Asian American Students’ Justice Judgments and Psychological Responses” suggests that “Hate crime legislation is controversial for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it can often conflict with a core value of American democracy enshrined in the First Amendment: the freedom of speech” (364). Liew’s argument is a based on the American democracy could be devalued if censorship is taken serious and implemented. The Supreme Court weighs heavily on the minds of free speech participating members.
If Lawrence and Liew’s arguments are to be taken seriously, they needs to reexamine the possible that violence can occur because the reaction when conflict mixed with emotion is sometimes a recipe for an explosion of violence. Any form of violence is not a guaranteed free speech right. Lawrence also implies that government regulation breeds Libertarian martyrs because Libertarians naturally dislike government regulation. If the government regulates all forms of speech, then Libertarian Americans will, in turn, argue for a necessary remedy to the regulation.
When some Libertarians are displeasing justify deregulation. The government regulates everything from air and tobacco to arsenic in the water the Libertarians would gladly point out. When it comes to the First Amendment activist and free speech advocate Annabel Patterson has a simpler view in her article “More Speech on Free Speech” she asserts “As Justice Holmes said long ago (in Gitlow v. New York). Every idea is an incitement to somebody . . . every sentence is potentially, in some situation[s] . . . fighting word[s]” (Fish, qtd in Patterson 60).
As an alternative to additional laws governing expression, Lawrence makes a case for the inclusion of lawyers in the process of protection of free speech: “[g]ood lawyers can create exceptions and narrow interpretations that limit the harm of hate speech without opening the floodgates of censorship” (64). The question of separation of powers starts to rear its ugly head. With every day that passes the United States seems to lose another piece of freedom, or so the Libertarians would have you believe. Lawrence’s assertions makes one believe that he wants the judicial branch involved in First Amendment issues.
There are fallacies in his argument; first, his premise that lawyers would abide by the limits of their power is somewhat preposterous. Secondly, the Supreme Court has made some awful decisions in its history. The Dred Scott case is a prime example of the government regulating from the bench. Lawrence is correct in his assertion that one’s free speech rights cannot be regulated by the government; however, they can be self-regulated by universities and community colleges across the country, via the idea of time, place, and manner, as well as self-regulation by open-minded communities.
We see this today as many college campuses allow speech that they deem ok, while disregarding the rights of the conservative community to have the same rights. There may be a day when all men and women are created equal in the sight of the college administrator. While the United States’ government regulates hate speech when it is intended to incite bodily harm amongst its victims, it generally does not get involved in matters of derogatory speech because it is covered in the 1st Amendment.
The intent of the framers of the Constitution made it crystal clear that the only way to restrict Free Speech rights was to change the constitution. There are, and always will be, moments when the rights of some seem unfair to others, however freedom comes with its prices, and those prices seem sometimes unbearable to one’s sole. However, the price of free speech is borne by the people sworn to protect this country, the soldiers that lay down their lives in conjunction with the idea that every person has a value and the values of America supersede those of any other country.
It does not matter if one personally agrees with another person’s First Amendment rights, because if you are an American you are guaranteed full protection under the law. Government regulation of speech goes against the very nature of America and should be struck down at every possible moment. Members of the ACLU and ACLJ ironically agree in this concept. America need not go down the road to perdition or it may not come back with its dignity intact.