Hate Speech Tests Nation's Commitment To First Amendment Principles

Blog author Professor Devin Schindler teaches Constitutional Law at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus and is a frequent commentator and expert on Constitutional issues, having been interviewed over 200 times by radio, television, print and internet media sources. Professor Schindler was recently interviewed about what the Constitution says about free speech as it relates to hate groups. Read here. 


Neo-Nazi and other forms of hate speech test our nation’s commitment to the cornerstone principles set forth in the First Amendment. No free government can long survive unless its citizens have an unassailable right to protest the decisions made by their elected leaders. The question we are challenged with today, as we have in the past, is should the Constitution's bedrock principle extend to protect speech that is an anathema to the goals of equality and justice reflected elsewhere in the Constitution?

The First Amendment is designed to protect a marketplace of ideas. Discovery of “truth” comes about only if all sides to any given debate have the ability to express their views, no matter how offensive to other citizens, free from undue government interference.  

The recent events in Charlottesville show this marketplace in action. The voice of every neo-Nazi was overwhelmed by a cacophony of speech from people and groups who recognize the nature of hate speech. The beauty of the First Amendment is not found in the words expressed by neo-Nazi leaders. It is found instead in the overwhelming denunciation of that speech expressed by millions of Americans. 

To be sure, there is no reasonable or legitimate argument for racial hatred and the politics of separation. But the Constitution does not protect us against injudiciousness. Instead, it grants to each of us the right to deride and unequivocally reject the politics of hate expressed by a handful of fringe speakers. 

A few uttering messages of racial hatred cannot destroy a country founded on the proposition that all individuals are created equal and vested with certain inalienable rights, such as the freedom of speech. Complacency, however, can. This battle can only be won  in the marketplace by a chorus of voices being raised against the speech of hate and violence expressed  by neo-Nazi’s and their fellow travelers. 
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