News and Commentary

Why Howard Dean’s ‘Hate Speech’ Tweet Should Scare You

On Thursday, Howard Dean of “YEAHHHHH!” fame tweeted that “hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.”

On Friday, comedian Bill Maher offered a rebuttal, saying:

“I feel like this is the liberals’ version of book burning, and it’s got to stop. Howard Dean tweeted … about this: ‘Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.’ Yes it is! Threats are not protected by the First Amendment.

This is why the Supreme Court said the Nazis could march in Skokie. They’re a hateful bunch – but that’s what the First Amendment means. It doesn’t mean just shut up, and agree with me.”

Bill Maher is correct – but Howard Dean is simply playing a small part in the larger progressive agenda. The progressive movement is pushing to have “hate speech” placed under the same umbrella as threats of harm.

However, while threats are relatively easy to define, how is “hate speech” defined?

Dean implies Ann Coulter’s joke about Timothy McVeigh targeting The New York Times building is “hate speech,” and therefore not protected under the First Amendment. According to Dean, as well as many other progressives, “hate speech” incites action, and that action can be harmful.

Ann Coulter’s joke about Timothy McVeigh could lead unstable individuals to target The New York Times building in the same way McVeigh hit the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. According to this narrative, Coulter’s joke should be taken as a threat.

This brings us back to the question: How is hate speech defined? More critically, who defines it? Because of its nebulous nature, the definition of hate speech is entirely subjective. As such, the task of defining it goes to whomever is in power.

Here’s the problem – subjectivity leaves ample room for censorship.

For some on the Left, a great many things amount to hate speech. Criticizing transgender bathroom accommodations is transphobic hate speech; declaring one’s opposition to gay marriage is homophobic hate speech; a stated desire for border security is xenophobic hate speech.

If all of these opinions are hate speech, and not subject to the protection of the First Amendment, they are targets for suppression. However, much of the speech deemed “dangerous” by progressives isn’t dangerous at all, it’s simply disagreeable to a portion of the population. A strong difference of opinion is not on the same level as a threat.

Dean is doing his part to push for a First Amendment revision. Such a monumental movement would necessarily begin culturally, and progressives know that. The movement, which seeks to manipulate the public into redefining free speech themselves, will gain cultural acceptance through social media, public speeches, and the mainstream press. Over time, the groundswell of public opinion will drift into serious political discourse. At that point, the war will be over.

It’s up to conservatives to fight this battle here and now. We must speak out against this type of censorship – but we must do it correctly. The only way to combat bad ideas is by providing an abundance of good ideas, not by shutting down the opposition. We must provide those good ideas, and we must also call out those who advocate censorship under the guise of fighting “hate speech.”