Antonio Gimenez | Senior majoring in Journalism
The legal precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court that prohibits shouting fire falsely in a crowded theater is similar to the religious precept of the Ninth Commandment in the Decalogue of Judeo-Christian theology, which orders that “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Both injunctions impose a limitation on what we consider ethical speech. But what if there is a fire? What if your neighbor actually commits a crime? Do we then have a moral obligation to speak up? The Constitution protects us from the tyranny of compelled speech but doesn’t shield us from a guilty conscience.
Freedom of speech implies the freedom to hate. Why? Because of the genuine moral outrage that we feel over the destruction and pollution of our ecosystems, the ethnic cleansing and genocide of Uyghurs in China, the throwing of acid onto the faces of women in places like Karachi, and the demolishing of Ukraine for the expansionist war-criminal Vladimir Putin. The list of grievances extends beyond what brevity permits.
“With respect to original sin,” Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “the inquiry is not necessary; for whatever is the cause of human corruption, men are evidently and confessedly so corrupt, that all the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from their crimes.” We cannot rely upon mere laws to restrain evil; we must make an effort to resist evil. The first of these efforts is to navigate matters through diplomacy and negotiation, but when these measures fail, we must resort to the martial spirit that quotes the old Italian proverb: Make yourselves sheep, and the wolves will eat you.
President Thomas Jefferson, in 1802, responded to a letter written by the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut saying that “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions.” We all are entitled to our opinion, although ideally, it should be an informed one, but we nonetheless have this freedom.
Freedom of speech is also the freedom to listen because when you silence someone you deny yourself the right to hear something. Hate speech is protected by the Constitution, and with good reason. If I’m doing something right, it’s nice when someone tells me. But that’s easy. To desire honest criticism when making mistakes, that’s maturity. Even if that criticism comes from a place of hate.
The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.
Want to write a letter to the editor? You can respond to this letter or write your own. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with a piece under 400 words. Text is edited for length, not for grammar, spelling or clarity.