Should Hate Speech Be Banned?
Reported by Ana Imes
On Jan. 22, Arthur Milikh, associate director of The Heritage Foundation’s B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics, gave a lecture called “Will America Ban Hate Speech?” hosted by the politics department at George Fox University (GFU). During his lecture, he warned against the criminalization of hate speech, arguing that laws against hate speech will infringe upon our freedom of speech overall.
Milikh explained that much of the Western world — including Western Europe and Canada — has already passed myriad laws that criminalize hate speech. Those who break these laws are subject to a “wide range of punishments” depending on the country. He described hate speech as “incitement to hatred that can be concealed in statements which at first glance may seem to be rational.”
According to Milikh, freedom of speech in the United States exists because the founding fathers recognized it as “necessary for representation” in politics, and because “our minds belong to us.” This liberty comes with qualifications in order to maintain our democratic system. These qualifications exclude “obscenities, libel, seditious libel, and sedition.”
Milikh claims that freedom of speech in America has helped us to avoid the negative extremes of “compulsion and mindless assent.” He describes the use of freedom of speech as “rational” and “manly.” When questioned further about his use of the word “manly,” he defined it as “the capability of persuading and of being persuaded,” or an “openness of soul.” Not to worry ladies, Milikh says “women can be manly too.”
Milkh thinks the effects of criminalizing hate speech in the United States would be disastrous. He says we would be ruled by “the press, elites, and government bureaucrats” in an environment where our “moral opinions aren’t formed by God; they’re formed by victims.” This seems contradictory to his prior points about the nature of the human soul. If we truly own our minds, as he says, we should be able to choose who forms our opinions regardless of restrictions on speech.
Milikh claims that the “purpose” of any laws banning hate speech is to “silence the human capacity to form judgement” and “to root out reason.” Although I agree with his argument that laws restricting speech lie on a slippery slope and are difficult to justly enforce, it is clear that laws banning hate speech are in place to protect human dignity and prevent further harm towards minority groups. It seems inconsistent for Milikh to accuse other governments and politicians of attempting “to root out reason” after shamelessly proclaiming the injustice of assuming negative intentions.
Milikh described those who are offended by hate speech as “frail little beings who live in the eyes of others.” He quoted Charles Taylor, encouraging us to base our dignity on our “potential for forming and defining our own identities” instead of depending on the degree to which others “celebrate” those identities. “All self-created identities are of the same value,” Milikh said.
There is strength and beauty in creating an identity independent of “haters.” It is healthy to internalize the idea that God — rather than others — gives us our value. Self-respect is our responsibility. However, we should still be intentional with our words and feel empowered to lovingly confront others when their words are harmful. Whether or not hate speech is ever legally banned in the United States, it is up to us as Americans to set our own standards for rhetoric, individually and collectively.