We’ve all heard what is happening in Berkeley. After right-wing activists and speakers Milo Yiannopolous and Ann Coulter were scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley, groups of left-leaning protesters stormed the campus to protest “hate speech” being allowed on campus. Right-wing groups, such as the alt-right, the Proud Boys, the Oathkeepers, and Trump supporters in general, have joined in the activities, taking a stand against the protesters, which included mostly Anti-Fascst Action and By Any Means Necessary. For weeks, violent riots and fights have ensued between the two sides. A lot of fighting has even left the campus and has been taken to the streets, and each demonstration have come to be known as the “Battles of Berkeley.”
As I have spoken to members of the left about their views of the matter, I have heard the same thing repeated: Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment to the US Constitution.
I am deeply perturbed by how popular of a view this is. Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of a free society, and as Ron Paul once said, “We don’t have freedom of speech to talk about the weather. We have the first amendment so we can say some very controversial things.”
The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Courts have ruled several times that speech which calls directly for violence against people or their property is not protected by the first amendment. Mere “hate speech,” which is of course a subjective term, is protected insofar as violence is not called for.
Neither Milo Yiannopolous nor Ann Coulter have called for violence. Milo, for example, preaches civil debate between competing ideologies rather than petty squabbles and endless insults. When he speaks at universities, he applauds members of the left for being civil and debating the issues, even when he does not agree with them. These right wing activists, just like most orators, go out on stage simply to speak their mind and be heard. They are speaking their opinions, just as left-wing activists do.
Without freedom of speech, all forms of liberty will eventually shrivel up and die. What is hate speech to one group is basic ideas to another. Groups today often have a tendency to misunderstand the beliefs of others, as in confusing cultural or western supremacy with white supremacy, in the case of many alt-right leaders.
As a libertarian, I find few points of agreement with the alt-right, but they, like everyone else, have the right to speak their minds and seek a chance to be heard and understood. Speech we disagree with is not hate speech, and banning it is the next step on the way to fascism, the very ideology the Antifa claims to oppose.