The Right of Free Speech and Opinion
Over the past few decades, there has been a dramatic change in how people view free speech. Comedians, actors, and college campuses have all adapted to this. It is hard to tell whether we should allow absolute free speech or if we should draw the line and limit free speech, and if so, where? What many want is to have hate speech laws, protecting against groups like the Ku Klux Klan, and Anti-Semitic groups. After all, they are not benefiting society and only cause harm. Others will argue that if we ban hate speech laws, it violates Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that guarantees freedom of thought, belief, and opinion, and freedom of expression, and the first amendment in the United States. Freedom of thought is what democracy is built off of, and if we limit speech, we limit the ability to have a discussion. The side that would support hate speech would counter-argue that we can discuss without the use of hate speech. Another topic regarding free speech is whether we should censor porn or not. Even if some people do not approve of porn, everyone still should be given the opportunity to consume or create speech while the argument espoused by conservatives suggests that communities have a right to protect themselves from forces that may lead to harm to or the destruction of shared values. There are arguments to both sides, and it is hard to find a place to draw the line. If the freedom of expression continues to be limited more and more each year, what will happen to our society? Will the line of what we can say shrink each year, limiting our rights and freedoms even more? With this being said, this paper will argue that we should have the right to free speech, and hate speech laws should not exist. We should not censor pornography, as it would violate our freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is becoming a serious issue, considering what was fine to say 20 years ago now can be considered offensive, as displayed in comedy, and the movie industry. An example of this is how ‘Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke’. It is true that that freedom of speech is getting out of hand in regards to what we can and cannot say especially micro aggressions. Micro aggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. There is no reason to be offended by being asked, ‘Where are you from’ or suggesting ‘the most qualified person should get the job.’ In the United States, “Congress shall make no law. Abridging the freedom of speech’ contained in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.” This law means that even if certain people feel harm and distress because of certain groups, it is their democratic right to express their opinion.
First, we need to define hate speech: hate speech, on the other hand, requires an overt act of violence motivated by hatred of a target group. People who want to limit freedom of speech support hate speech laws as it is protecting minorities. Many believe that “Regulations of speech (in the technical sense) are justified only if the harms associated with the speech clearly outweigh the harms that would be associated with its regulation.” Hate speech is shown in groups like the Ku Klux Klan, who typically small and built of hatred of non-white ‘minorities.’ “If racist hate speech silences people of colour and that silencing violates the free speech right, then failing to regulate hate speech will harm free speech.” This means hate speech silences minorities, isn’t that a limitation on their freedom of speech. These hate groups may not be causing violence, but they do certainly cause harm and distress to minorities. These groups are not benefiting anyone and are only causing harm, because of this, many people do not believe these groups should be allowed to exist.
In regards to the Ku Klux Klan, I believe that although it is offensive, and can cause distress to others, it is still their fundamental right to express their opinion even though we might not agree with it. As Mill said, ‘By saying what we think and by attending to the opinions of others, we, as a society are more likely to form better justified and hence true beliefs.” (1978) Regulating racist hate speech would cause more harm than good, “In preventing hate speech we would thereby be prevented from identifying the racists.” A critical reason more and more people are for hate speech laws is because of ‘generational snowflakes.’ A snowflake is often used as a derogatory shorthand to refer to millennials, a generation said to be easily offended, attention-seeking, and lacking resilience. The ‘Generational snowflakes’ are the ones who blow any controversial statement way out of proportion. Everyone has a right to an opinion; even when it causes harm distress; it is still our democratic right to express our opinion. The ‘snowflakes’ are a big part of why free speech is such a big issue right now. A small group of ‘snowflakes’ can grab a lot of media attention, and this is how small things someone says can get blown out of proportion. An example of this is in the article ‘Codling the American Mind’ when a student said to a group of loud black sorority girls ‘shut up you water buffalo,’ a term used to describe a thoughtless or rowdy person. This term was taken racially, and he was later charged with racial harassment. This is just one of many examples that prove that free speech is getting out of hand. No matter what we say, it is bound to offend someone, especially when we are talking about contentious issues. If we limit speech, we limit the ability to have a discussion. We have to hear from both sides of the spectrum. After all, by hearing criticism from both sides of the political spectrum and debating issues is how people grow, and what democracy is based on. The article ‘Coddling the American mind’’ talks about how the changes in culture over the past few decades have made parents more protective, shielding them from the ‘real world.’ As a result, they take a more significant offense to criticism and negative comments. ‘In order to make good judgments, citizens need to be exposed to a range of ideas; free speech allows citizens to be uninformed about a variety of views by people who strongly believe in them’ We have to remember how freedom of speech has positively benefited us in the past, when we think of the acceptance of gay marriage, acceptance of African Americans, and now the introduction of gender neutral washrooms. “In order to make good judgements, citizens need to be exposed to a range of ideas; free speech allows citizens to be uninformed about a variety of views by people who strongly believe in them”. What may seem offensive or controversial now could be considered the norm in the future; this is why we need freedom of speech to allow for these controversial topics.
The topic of censoring pornography is a useful example of whether we should limit freedom of speech. Many liberals have argued that only when harm can be identified as affecting a particular victim or victims is the state justified in interfering. Words and images that offend people because they are crude and indecent are not a strong enough reason to interfere with individual liberty. We live in a free society meaning we allow people to make their own mistakes. The state cannot interfere with us unless there is direct harm. The pro-porn feminists also agree that ‘porn is an important form of cultural expression with a multiplicity of meaning, they are critical that porn causes harm (Williams 1996; Kipnis 1996.)
On the other hand, ‘the argument espoused by conservatives suggests that communities have a right to protect themselves from forces that may lead to harm to or the destruction of shared values.’ Feminists believe women are raped, battered, harassed, and subject to other forms of violence by men who consume pornography, and women as a group are harmed because of the climate of violence against women that pornography engenders.” According to (Mackinon 1987), pornography ‘silences’ women limiting their free speech. Children at a young age have access to pornography, corrupting the way they appreciate women. Pornography can have a big impact on a child growing up; they think of women as sexual objects and are presented in being degraded and abused. An example to illustrate how porn can impact someone is “Ted bundy, who murdered and sexually abused at least thirty-five women claimed he was influenced by pornography.” Once again, the definition of hate speech is ‘abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group.’ Abusive or threatening speech (violence toward women) that expresses prejudice against a particular group (Women).
The liberal response to the conservative argument is that if silencing pornography is correct, we limit our freedom of speech. This being said, regulating porn would cause more harm than good, as regulating pornography would undermine free speech. Pornography can be considered an act of speech, even an artform; if we limit pornography we would also be limiting our freedom of expression. An alternative solution to regulating pornography is educating people on the harmful efftects to pornography. Wendy Mclroy believes ‘pornography allows viewers to experience and imaginatively explore sexual alternatives safely.’ Pornography allows viewers to view porn in a safe environment, a way that cannot cause physical harm to themselves. The censorship of pornography restricts our freedom of expression therefore we should not regualte pornography.
The right to free speech is a difficult topic; we want to protect the right to free speech, but we also want to protect people from harm and violence, hence we need to be able to draw a line between the two. In a democratic country, we should require the right to criticize and state our opinions even if it offends someone. The ‘Generational snowflakes’ are the ones who blow controversial statements out of proportion. If we limit free speech, we limit the ability to have discussions and political debates, which is what democracy is based on. As we have seen in the past, what may sound controversial now could be considered the norm in the future, this is why we need freedom of speech to allow for the possibility of new ideas to emerge. Everyone has a right to an opinion; even when it causes harm and distress; it is still our democratic right to express our opinion.
Cite this Essay
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below