The Stream

Hate speech v free speech: Where is the line? Part 1

Charlottesville violence puts free speech debate back on agenda.

Are there limits to free speech? Recent events across the United States, including a far-right march at which one anti-racism campaigner was killed and more than a dozen people injured in Charlottesville, Virginia, have left many asking that question.
Free speech is said to be one of the foundations of American democracy, and one of its most venerated values. The First Amendment of the Constitution reads: 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. It’s because of this law that Nazi signs and symbols were displayed freely in Charlottesville as the far-right groups marched through a university campus, shouting racial slurs.
But does this purist defence of free speech actually legitimise racist views and allow hate groups to grow and spread their ideology? Many say it does, and that hate speech should not be protected under free speech laws. Some countries in Europe have taken this position, online and on the streets.
We’ll look at the growing debate over hate and free speech in the United States. Should a line between the two be drawn, and if it is, will the court of public opinion value everyone’s freedom equally? Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we’ll speak to:

Jeremy Malcolm @qirtaiba
Senior Global Policy Analyst, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Harvey Silverglate @HASilverglate
Civil liberties lawyer

Melina Abdullah @DocMellyMel
Organiser, Black Lives Matter

K-Sue Park  
Critical Race Studies Fellow, UCLA School of Law

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.