Hate speech is the kind of speech used to denigrate an individual or a group of people because of something about them, such as their race, ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability, ideology, social class, or physical appearance. Speech is considered written or oral communication and some forms of behaviors in a public setting (such as burning a cross).
Some people have trouble defining hate speech. Does it matter whether the speech occurs in a face-to-face encounter, in an online diatribe, in a novel, in a newscast, during a classroom presentation, or as part of a political candidate’s campaign? Can hate speech be defined as a list of words (fag, nigger, kike, retard, fatso, gimp), or does the context of those words count (rap music, Lenny Bruce, a scholarly paper)?  Which is more important in determining hate speech, the intent of the speaker (Rahm Emanuel saying the Democrats are “fucking retarded,”  or the reaction of the audience (Sarah Palin, because of her Down’s Syndrome child)?

The following might be considered hate speech:

  • In Maryland, at a town hall hosted by Democratic Sen. Ben Cardina, a man held a sign “Death to Obama” and “Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids.”  The man was detained and turned over to the U.S. Secret Service for questioning. It is illegal to threaten the life of a president.
  • A couple of weeks before last November’s election, a man in West Hollywood, Calif., had a display outside his home of a mannequin dressed to look like Sarah Palin hanging by a noose around her neck. A likeness of John McCain appeared to be emerging from a fake fire.
  • A liberal radio talk show host, Mike Malloy, said on the air: I have good news to report: Glenn Beck appears closer to suicide. I’m hoping that he does it on camera. Suicide is rampant in his family, and given his alcoholism and his tendencies toward self-destruction, I am only hoping that when Glenn Beck does put a gun to his head and pulls the trigger that it will be on television, because somebody will capture it on YouTube and it will be the most popular video for months.”

Is this hate speech?

The Two Minutes Hate: August 12, 2009


I am certain this is:

Tempe pastor reiterates wish for President Obama s death Phoenix Arizona


Before a truck bomb took out the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, these people might have been dismissed as cranks. Now, after the deaths of George Tiller and Stephen Johns (the Holocaust Museum guard), it feels as if we should take action.


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.
— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The federal government and state governments are broadly forbidden by the First Amendment from restricting speech. Unique among courts in the world, the Supreme Court has extended broad protection in the area of hate speech—abusive, insulting, intimidating, and harassing speech that at the least fosters hatred and discrimination and at its worst promotes violence and killing. The First Amendment is not, of course, absolute; private institutions, including universities and employers, are not subject to the First Amendment, which restricts only government activities.

There is obviously a direct a direct link between freedom of speech and a vibrant democracy. Justice Louis Brandeis wrote that “freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth.” I ask, is that correct? Is the national debate bolstered when, for example, hate speech is mainstreamed? Or are the real issues pushed to the backburner while we debate nonsense, like whether or not our President is an American citizen?

Americans vigorously dispute the application of the First Amendment. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in his famous Abrams v. United States (1919) dissenting opinion, had a shocking opening line: “Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical.” What could Holmes have been thinking?

Perhaps Holmes was saying that all of us have within us a kind of censorship-impulse. Governments are especially prone to censor. As Holmes went on: “If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition.” Censorship is a kind of social instinct. As caring and responsible citizens of society, we are likely to want many results with all our hearts. We want safety, we want freedom from fear, we want order, civility, racial and religious tolerance, we want the best world for our children. We want these things with all our hearts, and when others express opinions that seem to threaten these hopes, we want to enact laws that forbid them to express it.  It is only logical to want to prevent opposition to what we know is good. But that’s the crux of freedom of speech: Who are “we” and how do we “know what is good,” really?

Most people believe in the right to free speech, but debate whether it should cover flag-burning, hard-core rap and heavy-metal lyrics, tobacco advertising, hate speech, kiddie porn, nude dancing, and religious symbols on government property. Many would agree to limiting some forms of free expression.

Many influential American thinkers have often argued that robust protection of freedom of speech, including speech advocating crime and revolution, actually works to make the country more stable, increasing rather than decreasing our ability to maintain law and order. Does that hold true even if a percentage of citizens want to see minority populations disenfranchised; even if they want to see their brand of Christianity become the national religion; even if they government programs labeled fascist? Freedom of speech allows a tiny but vocal group of people to use the megaphone of the media to spread lies, fear, and hate too.

Perhaps if a society as wide-open and pluralistic as America is not to explode from festering tensions and conflicts, there must be valves through which citizens with discontent may blow off steam.

Probably the most celebrated attempt at an explanation to the value of free speech is the “marketplace of ideas” metaphor, a notion most famously associated with Justice Holmes’ great dissent in Abrams, in which he argued that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” The marketplace of ideas metaphor does not assure that truth will emerge from the free trade in ideas, but merely says that free trade in ideas is the best test of truth. Is that true? And doesn’t Holmes make certain assumptions about Americans? For example, doesn’t he presume an educated populace, one taught critical thinking skills?

The connection of freedom of speech to self-governance and the appeal of the marketplace of ideas metaphor still, however, does not tell it all. Freedom of speech has value on a more personal and individual level. Freedom of speech is part of the human personality, a value intimately intertwined with human autonomy and dignity. In the words of Justice Thurgood Marshall in the 1974 “The First Amendment serves not only the needs of the polity but also those of the human spirit — a spirit that demands self-expression.”

Many Americans embrace freedom of speech for the same reasons they embrace other aspects of individualism. The U.S. Supreme Court has often understood the First Amendment in a way that defies the logical impulse to censor. In scores of decisions, the Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment in a manner that to most of the world seems positively radical. Those decisions are numerous and cover a vast and various terrain, but consider some highlights. Americans have the right to:

  • Desecrate the national flag as a symbol of protest.
  • Burn the cross as an expression of racial bigotry and hatred.
  • Espouse the violent overthrow of the government as long as it is mere abstract advocacy and not an immediate incitement to violence.
  • Traffic in sexually explicit erotica as long as it does not meet a rigorous definition of “hard core” obscenity.
  • Defame public officials and public figures with falsehoods provided they are not published with knowledge of their falsity or reckless disregard for the truth.
  • Disseminate information invading personal privacy if the revelation is deemed “newsworthy.”
  • Engage in countless other forms of expression that would be outlawed in many nations but are regarded as constitutionally protected here.
  • And infamously, now, corporations have the right to make political contributions to increase the influence of money on the political process.

“In much of the developed world, one uses racial epithets at one’s legal peril, one displays Nazi regalia and the other trappings of ethnic hatred at significant legal risk and one urges discrimination against religious minorities under threat of fine or imprisonment,” Frederick Schauer, a professor at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, wrote in a recent essay called “The Exceptional First Amendment. But in the United States,” Schauer continued, “all such speech remains constitutionally protected.”

Canada, Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France. By contrast, U.S. courts would not stop the American Nazi Party from marching in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977, though the march was deeply distressing to the many Holocaust survivors there.


According to opinions in Supreme Court cases, there are four main characteristics that make hate speech a legal offense: Incitement to imminent lawless action, true threats, a clear and present danger, and fighting words. There are other areas of speech not protected by the first amendment too—obscenity, libel and slander, and conflict with other governmental interests (like gag orders during trials and certain speech during war).

Incitement to imminent lawless action

In Brandenburg v Ohio (1969), the justices upheld the right of the Ku Klux Klan to call publicly for the expulsion of African Americans and Jews from the United States, even though the speech in question intimated using violence. The justices held that unless the speech was intended to cause violence and had a high likelihood of producing such a result imminently it was protected by the First Amendment. The Brandenburg test has proven nearly impossible to meet.

True threats

The Supreme Court explained the definition of true threats in Virginia v. Black (2003) — in which it upheld most of a Virginia cross-burning statute — this way:

“True threats’ encompass those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals. The speaker need not actually intend to carry out the threat. Rather, a prohibition on true threats protect(s) individuals from the fear of violence and from the disruption that fear engenders, in addition to protecting people from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur.”

In Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists (2002), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that some vigorous anti-abortion speech — including a Web site that listed the names and addresses of abortion providers who should be tried for “crimes against humanity” — could qualify as a true threat. The 9th Circuit emphasized that “the names of abortion providers who have been murdered because of their activities are lined through in black, while names of those who have been wounded are highlighted in grey.”

Even in the speech-restrictive world of the military, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled in United States v. Wilcox (2008) that a member of the military could not be punished for posting racially offensive and hateful remarks he made over the Internet about white supremacy.

A Clear and Present Danger

In 1919, the Supreme Court was first requested to strike down a law violating the Free Speech Clause. The case involved Charles Schenck, who had, during WWI published leaflets challenging the conscription system. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld Schenck’s conviction for violating the Espionage Act. Justice Holmes, writing for the Court, wrote that “the question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”

The “clear and present danger” test of Schenck was extended in 1919, again by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. The case involved a speech made by Eugene V. Debs, a political activist. Debs had not spoken any words that posed a “clear and present danger” but a speech in which he denounced militarism was nonetheless found to be sufficient grounds for his conviction. Justice Holmes suggested that the speech had a “natural tendency” to stop the draft. Can you imagine this precedent holding up today? I can’t, given the amount of anti-government talk I hear in the media daily.

Freedom of speech was also influenced by anti-communism during the Cold War. In 1940, the Congress made it illegal to advocate “the propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force and violence.” Even though there was no immediate danger posed by the Communist Party’s ideas, the Court allowed the Congress to restrict the Communist Party’s speech.

These cases have never been explicitly overruled by the Court, but subsequent decisions have greatly narrowed its place within First Amendment laws. Now only speech explicitly inciting the forcible overthrow of the government remains punishable.

Fighting Words

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, (1942) that intimidating speech directed at a specific individual in a face-to-face confrontation amounts to “fighting words,” and that the person engaging in such speech can be punished if “by their very utterance [the words] inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” Say a white student stops a black student on campus and utters a racial slur. In that one-on-one confrontation, which could easily come to blows, the offending student could be disciplined under the “fighting words” doctrine for racial harassment.

Over the past 50 years, however, the Court hasn’t found the “fighting words” doctrine applicable in any of the hate speech cases that have come before it, since the incidents involved didn’t meet the narrow criteria stated above.

Libel and Slander

You do not have a constitutional right to tell lies that damage or defame the reputation of a person or organization. This is a highly inconsistent ruling, as I can provide several examples where president Obama was the object of both lies and slander. Obama is a racist, a fascist, a socialist. Perhaps the President has decided it is not worth it to put these statements to the test. Of course, it is very difficult to prove that the defamer knew his or her facts were lies.

Nonverbal Symbols

Symbols of hate are constitutionally protected if they’re worn or displayed before a general audience in a public place, say, in a march or at a rally in a public park. But the First Amendment doesn’t protect the use of nonverbal symbols to encroach upon, or desecrate, private property, such as burning a cross on someone’s lawn or spray-painting a swastika on the wall of a synagogue or dorm.

In recent decades, American courts have held that public hate speech, such as the Nazi march in Skokie, must be protected under the First Amendment because there is no principled way to distinguish that speech from other forms of political expression. I would argue that this form of speech invades its targets’ rights to personal security, personality, citizenship, and equality. The crucial question then becomes whether this form of speech should be protected anyway because of its political character. The answer to this question turns on our conception of political speech. After looking at the leading theory in this area – Justice Holmes’s vision of the marketplace of ideas – I argue that political speech is best understood as discourse among individuals or groups who recognize one another as equals and free, as well as members of the community. By denying recognition to its targets, political hate speech violates the fundamental ground rules that should govern political debate. I believe that this form of speech should not receive constitutional protection. Interpreting the First Amendment in this way would not only allow American law to reconcile the competing demands of free speech and human dignity; it would also approach  political hate speech in the same way that many other liberal democratic nations and the international community does.

It once seemed easier to ignore the haters among us. They held furtive meetings in out-of-the-way places, wrote racist screeds in the guise of bad novels, and when they appeared in public, they wore hoods to hide their faces. Now, they apply for admission to the bar, stand for elected office, appear on radio and television talk shows, and increasingly take their message to the mainstream by using the Internet.

America, we like to feel, has room for everyone. It is a place of tolerance, equality, and justice. Hate is an affront to that vision, and the lengthening list of hate crimes should haunt our national conscience and make us search for a remedy. I am struggling with Freedom of Speech.

Next– Part 3: The Psychology of Hate Groups and How They Recruit

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Another great article, Cher, and such thoughtful comments by everyone.

Geeze, how embarrassing that two different nutjobs featured in both articles are from Arizona.


Thank you, Cher – again a bracing look into darkness and one of downsides of our country actually honoring freedom of speech. Keep it coming, lady!!!


Excellent post, Cher. I am torn about this topic, as many others are. When does free speech become hate speech? What might seem tame to me could sound like hate speech to someone else. If I bash the Catholic church, is that not as repulsive to a devout Catholic as someone else ranting racist poison is to me? If we prevent the Skokie skinheads from marching, will we not someday prevent socialists from marching, or gay rights parades? I am one of those people who donates to the ACLU (when I have money anyway), even though I can’t abide some of the things they stand up for (their recent support for the SCOTUS decision). But I will still donate money to them.

It’s clear that there is not necessarily a slippery slope to utter censorship if you close off some — as they do in places like Canada and France. We would probably survive if we told the Skokie skinheads to go home and shut up. But the idea still makes me very uncomfortable.


The Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms does not have an absolute right to free speech contained therein (unlike, I believe, the American counterpart) …….. it reads “[it] guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

Canadian courts, particularly the Supreme Court of Canada, have very narrowly (rightly so, IMO) defined what constitutes hate speech and the Human Rights Commission of Canada (a non-criminal inquiry board to which any citizen has the right to submit for redress against hate and discrimation) have faithfully followed this narrow definition. This, perhaps, explains why we have fairly rigourous and free speech north of the line without the rabid racism that seems to be so evident south of the border. Up here, your legal rights as a citizen come with legal responsibilites.

I haven’t done anywhere near the research you have, Cher – I’m afraid, when confronted with legalese, my eyes glaze over and my brain shuts down – but it would seem to me that one of the major differences between our two countries is found in the constitutional language on free speech. In the States, from all that I have read and heard, the individual reigns supreme even at the expense of any harm to society – in Canada, which has been internationalist in character for most of it’s history, society is given legal weight as well as the individual. At all times the courts have striven to only minimally infringe on individual liberties and confine the use of legalese within a very narrow range.

If you can wade through this document this link will take you to a recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal relating to what is hate speech and who may or may not be guilty of it.


On the broader aspect of your article – should free speech always be free – I share you uneasiness whenever challenges to that freedom arise. Simply because speech is disgusting and vile and totally beyond the pale should it be prohibited? My principled approach is NEVER ….. but that’s hard to hang on to when you read or hear some of the garbage that’s out there. Like you, e’cat, I may not always agree with the ACLU’s stance but I admire their dedication to principle.


I believe that was under Trudeau. Also, Canada has done a better job actively promoting multiculturalism. And, they go out of their way to highlight not just significant minorities, like M



Yes – it was, IMO, the pinnacle of what was the best about this country. But I’m an admitted member of the Trudeau fan club! It may surprise you to know 🙂 that the rw up here are the biggest complainers about judicial activism, the Constitution as written and Trudeau!! Luckily, the Constitution would be very hard to change up here AND we don’t have as radicaliized a rw movement as you have (give it time, give it time – eek!!)


Hi Mightywoof, My parents were Canadians and I’m one of those who “woke up Canadian” under the new law (I qualify for dual citizenship). My relatives are all in Canada. Unfortunately, my experience has been quite different from what you describe. One of the things I remember most about them is the outspoken anti-semitism of my aunt, an elderly woman who lives on a farm in northern Ontario. I was pretty shocked at the way she blurted out some nonsense about how this or that was the fault of the Jews. My Toronto relatives also did a fair amount of bashing the Jamaicans that live there. After my last visit with these people, I went away thinking “What a bunch of racists!”


Yeah e’cat – there are racists in every society and I’m sorry you had to find out that even ‘nice’ Canadians can be jerks as well. There was a time when Canadian society was extremely racist – jews, irish, native canadians/first peoples, let’s not forget the french, ukrainians – anybody, in fact, who wasn’t a WASP. There are still pockets of that kind of attitude around but I think (believe, hope in my heart) that the vast majority of us work really hard at rooting out any racism within ourselves and actively speak out when racism is seen or heard. It’s not Camelot up here by any means and we still have work to do but I don’t see in our msm the same kind of things that I read in the American msm – perhaps I’m not reading those kinds of msm articles – just call me Pollyana!


Don’t forget them damn Yankees! 😆

BTW, I think of Trudeau in the same way I think of Democratic bogeymen to our right. They can’t stand he was so popular and successful.

I’m not surprised by that from the Conservatives, but I would rather have a Harper than a Republican any day.


Be careful what you wish for Khirad! Harper has been in a minority position since the conservatives were first elected. I don’t like his party’s policies and I don’t like the undercurrents in the membership of the party (fundamentalist christianity, social conservatism). I believe, if he and his party are ever elected with a majority, we will not know what hit us! Still – I do think he’s nowhere near as rw as the most lw of Republicans.


True, I forgot that Harper has more of that undercurrent on the social level, and his neo-liberal blue tory tendencies more pronounced than expected. Still I must say the way they’ve played the Bloc, NDP and Grits off each other in the times I’ve been paying attention, makes the left look absolutely pathetic. Just a Yanks novice opinion. No offense meant. 🙂

P.S. I wouldn’t mind an article on Canadian politics. (I ask all non-Americans to give me the inside scoop of their countries – I’m like that)


No offense taken Khirad – your assessment is humiliatingly correct 🙁 . I don’t know about me giving you the scoop on Canadian politics – you sound incredibly knowledgeable already – Grits!! Impressive 🙂



I was not aware Harper was a fundamentalist christian. I will have to do some research on him. I know there is a movement in Canada similar to ours but was not aware Harper was a part of that……scary


Canada has not got one of the world’s great historical track records on human rights. Their treatment of “aboriginal people” (the approved term even by the people) has been nearly as horrific as ours.

However, I was in Ottawa,Canada in 1974 for a conference (I was young, wrote my first paper for an academic conference, and was wowed with my good fortune) when I found myself in the room next to Richard Cardinal who was in Ottawa with others protesting the second-class citizenship of indigenous people. I saw his actions on Parliament Hill on TV, then walked out of my room, met up with him coming from his, and rode down in the elevator with him. I was in awe. I realized I was witnessing a man who was changing history. And that WAS a turning point for Canada. He made such an impassioned plea for justice, the nation could NOT turn its back. From that day forward, Canada has been on the path of righteousness.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, lived, and died, we did make huge strides. But we are moving if not back – I don’t think that – but sideways. The largest difference between Canada and the US is the legacy of slavery. A huge portion of this nation cannot get past it – some justify it, some want to sweep it under the rug, some hate it, some cannot let it go. But we are all affected. I do understand the white immigrants who had nothing to do with it – who were themselves near slaves in the northern mills – but it still is our history and our burden of shame.

What we have steadfastly failed to do is to link slavery with that wage slavery because to do that is the most dangerous thing in America. It would show, in all ways, that white people, Black people, and immigrants of all backgrounds have a great deal more in common together than either will have with the power that holds all of them down.

I lived in Cape Breton some years ago and found they have made that bridge. There is an awareness of class, of its power, of its injustice that this nation will NOT confront. Back in the 1970s I did corporate power research, and we were on the brink of showing to all Americans the insidious nature of corporate and class dominance of our nation when the mis-steps of Carter led to Reagan led to a whitewash and refusal to look at who created the hell we lived with then. Even the massive recession under Reagan did not generate enough pushback. Instead he used the “welfare queen” code for Black woman to divide and conquer.

Why are Americans so stupid about this? Why do they believe their fortunes lie with their oppressors rather than their neighbors? Other nations have overcome significant amounts of their racism – what’s wrong with US?

I have some hope for the younger generations who seem far more comfortable in multicultural and multiracial settings. Maybe it just takes that – slow exposure and change – but it is so hard to watch my own supposedly enlightened Boomer generation fall back on the worst of what we protested in the 60s.

America is the greatest experiment, but I’m watching it fail. Other nations that never portrayed themselves in such lofty ways are slowly doing so much more, so much better. I am an American through and through, but I’m not sure I will live out my days here. It’s too hard, too painful to watch a society fragment and fail over – nothing. Hate is an amazingly powerful force, and I’m not sure we will win this time.


Daaaaaamn! That was awesome! that could’ve been an article in itself!

Yes, very similar. While I have trouble imagining this level of ceremony for an apology in America (apologies are for the weak), the story is all too familiar:

And yes, The Chinese, the first Punjabis and other groups, even the Doukhobors faced discrimination and xenophobic laws.

I held back on asking my usual default question when it comes to Cape Breton – since it has little to do with this.

I feel sorta spoiled. Like when a black person will talk to me as a younger person and avoid older whites, or treat them more reticently. They’ve straight up told me they don’t see much problems with us, but the older ones are often racist. I’m thinking of one encounter I had walking down the street when a black guy was asking for donations for a battered women’s shelter that dealt with women of color (though I’m not sure if it was primarily that). He was relieved to see me after getting door after door shut in his face and needed to vent. That stuck with me.

There is a generational shift, I believe. Even listening to Meghan McCain blasting Tom Tancredo today gives me hope (though I still suspect that girl is seriously confused or in denial).


Khirad – I will lay odds it’s not your age but your, what, persona (no good word for this – aura?) that people sense. I know it’s not true that you can always “see” a person’s personality on their faces, but you do see something of their demeanor, their state of mind, and yes, over time, their overall attitude. Laugh lines are just different from squints and frown lines. Older people tend to have mouths that curve down from disappointment or disapproval. My highly judgmental mother never EVER laughed with her mouth open (God forbid she might appear to approve of you) where I throw my head back and just laugh out loud. I smile at everyone, bet you do, too. I meet eyes – can you think of a worse “rule” than to tell white people never to look at Black people (esp. men) and never EVER smile at them????? Who wouldn’t cop an attitude if every white person skittered by you with a scowl as if you were trash? So I’m betting you give off great emotions of personhood, acceptance, curiosity, openness. More than your age – it’s YOU.

So what’s the Cape Breton query, eh?


Damn! I knew you were all very intelligent, very knowledgable, erudite folks around here but I have NEVER been privileged to read such heartfelt, thoughtful and compassionate discussions. I am so honoured to know each and every one of you. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you in such a civilized way. My oh my – you have me nearly in tears here. Cher and c’lady – you sound so downhearted. It’s a tough fight you have ahead of you and it sounds as if you’ve been fighting the good fight for many years. Please hang in there – your country IS worth fighting for although it may not seem so in the darkness.

Thanks, Khirad, for posting the vid – I watched clips of it on the news but I’ve never seen it full-length. There are times when Harper surprises me by doing the right thing but, perhaps I’m being overly cynical, I always have in the back of my mind that he doesn’t do things for the right reasons. I live in hope that he may prove to be a better person than I think him to be. I have great respect for First Nations peoples – they have lost much of their culture and language and identity because of what was done to them but they have managed to hang on by their fingernails and that day in Ottawa was the first of what I hope turns out to be great triumphs for them. Now Canada has to deal with the issue of broken treaties and land claims.


Excellent work Cher
So brave of you to approach these topics,
I can only imagine that it must be very hard to look at this stuff up close.


Oy – this is once again so hard. I work against hate crime and speech and have for over 20 years. But speech, mostly, is protected. The “imminent danger” cited here historically was SUCH a miscarriage of justice. Debs was anything but an “imminent danger”. We have moved a long way toward increased freedom since then, so most free speech remains free. Disgusting, yes, but unpunished. It is VERY hard to punish speech, and that, frankly – even when the attacks have been against ME – is something I support.

The ‘true threat’ of the “Wanted” posters and the Nuremberg List were, I think, warranted, since after Dr. Slepian was killed in NY in 1998, the wackos converted said list and posters into REAL targets against pro-choice people. They had NOT been such prior to that physician’s murder. The Army of God made clear they were using these as a “shopping list” of people to kill. That is the ‘true threat’.

Hate speech is definitely protected. That’s why pastors in RW churches have no ground (and damn well know it) for claiming that if they preach against homosexuality they’ll be taken away in chains. Nope. Sorry. No martyrs today. But if they call for the murder of GLBTQ people and their members DO harm someone, whole different ball game. And they know that, too.

Hate crimes largely cover ACTS. You can hate someone all you like, but your right to hate stops at YOUR property line AND the end of their nose. You may not harm their or public property; you may not rough them up, push, shove, beat, pummel or do anything violent to them or people with them at all.

Now as to Muslims – I work with CAIR in both Southern and Northern CA and adore them. I work with the Islamic Shura Council and love them. I work with Muslims for Progressive Values and absolutely love them. I have stood in so many press conferences while they denounce VIOLENCE COMMITTED BY MUSLIMS I have lost count. There is a fatwah (religious command) AGAINST all violence issues by the national Shura Council in No. America becauses using jihad as an excuse to bomb, kill, maim is ANTI Islamic. I’ve read a lot of this in the Qur’an, and it is NOT a part of Islam to kill others. Self defense, sure (see the Bible for these issues; we’re a LOT more violent in the Old Testament than is the Qur’an!) There is NO passage in the Qur’an that would permit Al Q’aeda to do what it does. They, like the RW Christians, mostly make that stuff up to justify what they do.

I am so admiring of my Muslim allies who get pilloried by everyone but who consistently stand against violence committed BY Muslims. Where are the Christians (other than the progressives) denouncing people like Roeder, Tim McVeigh, et al. who did their acts “in the name of God”????? You won’t see Rick Warren hopping on that issue, now will you?

Now – if you don’t KNOW that Muslims are consistently denouncing acts of violence such as Ft. Hood, the Christmas Day Underpants bomber, et al. that’s because it’s once again NOT reported. Since I’m there much of the time, standing in front of the microphones with them, I KNOW what got said, who said it (including me), and how much it dies on the cutting room floor.

So don’t assume, again, it’s not getting said. Ask yourselves why you are not hearing this when good sense would tell you that people living in the US probably don’t hate the US for the most part. If they left their homes to come here, they probably WANT to be here. To assume that Muslims are indifferent to hate crimes committed by other Muslims is just wrong. They are in agony every time it happens.

The only way we’re going to fight back against hate crimes is to move swiftly every time it happens. EVERY time. Fundamentally these people are cowards and bullies. Bush let it fester because they liked him (what’s not to like in a RW cowboy?) but it allowed them to gain strength. We need swift and certain action, swift and certain denunciation, swift and certain avowal of our community as human beings. And that’s going to be damned hard to pull off since we have few outlets for our voices. But we do need to keep on keepin’ on.

Sorry to say, we have to renew the Civil Rights movement and solidarity all over again. Thought we’d been there. Thought we’d won that. Apparently we have to go back and start again. Sigh.

Life. Part II.


Anyone attempting to justify bad statements or bad behavior based on the First Amendment is hiding behind “Grandma’s skirts.” He can’t give a legitimate reason for doing what he does, yet relies on Grandma to protect him regardless. After awhile, his behavior becomes falsely condoned and he eventually gets away with murder.

Pepe Lepew

I have torn feelings about this as well, Cher.
I am a very, very, very strong believer in the freedom of speech. That means people have the *right* to be assholes. The have the right to spew racist, toxic, divisive filth … and I have the right to call it racist, toxic filth … and the right to call *them* racists.
I guess in my view, the First Amendment protects me by protecting everyone … even the worst of the worst assholes. Because in the Bush Administration’s eyes, people like *me* were the assholes. Without a First Amendment, I have no doubt Cheney and his ilk would have been rounding up people like me spouting off against the Iraq War and charging them with sedition. There were certainly a lot of people out there — in the blogosphere and elsewhere — who wanted to round up people speaking out against the war as traitors.

There is a troll who shall remain nameless “on the other site” who LOVES to annoy Canadians about “Canadian speech code” laws. Some of you probably know who I’m talking about. I didn’t even know what he was talking about; I finally figured out he meant Canadian hate speech laws.

I have torn feelings about these laws. While they are very controversial in Canada, in fact, very few people have ever been prosecuted for them. I literally think it’s just a handful of people. You have to spout some pretty egregious stuff to actually get in trouble, and you pretty much have to do it in published works or on radio. But, then again, when you get right down to it, the freedom of speech in the U.S. is stronger than in Canada.


Indeed. They have that right, and I have the same right to call them a fucking racist asshole. The line, as you and Nellie below pointed out is where this gets tricky. And while this Canadian law may right well be sensible (unlike double-standards of British ones), then you’ll hear the paranoid Becks out there…

The worst consequences I see isn’t so much Fascist as ridiculous and absurd — like wasn’t there a French law about spouses nagging each other recently passed? I can’t find it.

Pepe Lepew

Exactly, my whole attitude about the First Amendment is “It ain’t pretty, but ain’t it grand?”

The genuinely ludicrous law in Canada, IMO, is the French-only ordinance in Quebec. You can be fined and even jailed if you own a business and you put a sign in your window in English.


Yes, that one is quite infamous. I thought maybe there was something new I hadn’t heard of. I once brought it up with a correspondence I had from Montr


Nice work, Cher. As usual. This is a very interesting series.

Hate speech and threatening speech — to me — seem to be two different things. When I think of hate speech, I think of hate crimes. It is speech designed to victimize a class of people rather than an individual. And it does seem to be designed to victimize, rather than merely to criticize or insult. Hate speech seems to carry an element of incitement — encouraging others to hate, discriminate against, and victimize a class of individuals with the purpose of terrorizing that group of people. Hate speech, like hate crimes, seems to me a type of speech that should be regulated in certain environments. But then, I’m all for regulating certain kinds of speech depending on the context. I think a news station should be accountable for telling the truth, I think inciting speech should be punishable if there are dire consequences.

Free speech is a tricky issue for me. I think congress should be very careful about making laws that restrict speech. On the other hand, I think people should be held accountable for what they say when what they say leads directly to harmful consequences to others. And I believe we do have laws on the books to that effect.

KQµårk 死神

That’s pretty much the interpretation I give hate speech as well. If it’s part of a hate crime it’s easy to see the context. But if it’s generalized speech the context is more difficult to define but still can be defined based on intent. If there were strict statutes like using the N-word Cher would be in violation and using hate speech. I would not mind statutes like that myself but that’s imposing my beliefs on everyone else.

It’s a double edged sword as well. Yes the right has called Obama a socialist but how many times have we called Bush a fascist or Nazi. Yes their might be more truth in that statement but it’s still hyperbole. Frankly calling Obama a socialist could be defended in courts quite easily because they could point to how he nationalized a big part of the car industry for a while. The intellectual dishonesty is you could call Reagan a socialist for doing the same thing with the railroads.

I’m much more concerned about banning hate speech for it’s unintended consequences considering the culture of this country. If hate speech did have to go underground for example I could see it being attractive for young men in particular to join these organization in their angst filled years. The same effect the drug war is having on the population could actually make hate speech cool and rebellious.

I think you can do define intent in these matters, e.g. if a white group is yelling at an African American using racial epitaphs that intent is very clear. Their intention is to damage through verbal abuse. I just believe it’s a hate crime to direct speech in this way if the context and intent is clearly to damage the other party.


As a parent of 2 black children I have a “ring side seat” to hatred and bigotry that most white Americans are not privy to.
I know the difference of how I am treated when I am by myself compared to the way I’m treated because I am with my kids or my black friends. I’ve had people try to run me over in crosswalks because of my friendships. My children have been (since elementary school) and continue to be (they are now 22 and 24) called niggers.
These are only 2 small examples of the hatred we’ve experienced.
Some of my white friends thought I was making things up because they had never seen or experienced racism in out area. But when I questioned them as to how many times they had walked with any one of color, they had to admit they never have, so, my question was and is, how would they know about it? They think it doesn’t exist because no one is discriminating against their white butts!
But this little link here has been on my mind for days as one of the more hateful pieces of propaganda…this is what we are up against..
Even if you were a person that didn’t agree with gay parents adopting, how could this be ok?
The tolerance for hate is appalling and the religious right can hide so well behind articles like this if no one is fighting to expose them. This is one of the more underhanded things I’ve seen lately.


Keep the faith, Hope. And good on you for fighting the good fight.

I’m still stunned by the number of people who don’t associate with anyone but their own race. In this day and age, it seems so provincial — even backward. Then again, I live in Los Angeles. It’s impossible NOT to associate with just about every type of person in the world when you live here.


You are on the right side of the equation, though. I hate ignorance therefore I hate rascism of any kind. These people who act like that are ignorant and foolish. I just love to debate the white person who says the minorities of the world need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It usually boils down to they will choose the negative things they have heard to bolster their argument but never address the positive. I know a lady who hates muslims because of the way they treat women. Yet she hates all muslims so that tells me she is using the feminist thing to justify her hate, otherwise she would at least like the women, right?
People like that have no place in our society if you ask me.


Oh dear Hopeington – you send chills down my spine! The comment about people trying to run you over in crosswalks is so true! When I was 19 I was with a Black man in the “wrong” place in the City of Brotherly Love, and two guys backed up and hit me with their car. I thought such things had stopped, but clearly that is not true. I really feel for what you’re experiencing, and I know the ‘privilege’ of being white and seeing the reality of the hate. We get to hear what white people say when they think of course we must agree. It’s beyond belief. Anyone who says it does not exist says that from a profound ignorance. You’re right – they never put themselves in that position, never see first hand how slavering and rabid the racism still can be.

And yes, the religious right can be racist to the core, homophobia runs like icewater in their veins, and anti-Semitism on all levels is their mother’s milk. They are vile. Those evangelicals who rise above it are glorious – but they are thin upon the ground I fear. And they need to do some denouncing instead of hiding! It’s no longer OK to be timid. This is 1959 all over again. We need to step out and speak out. It’s NOT all right to hate!


Choice & Hope — I had a similar experience in St. Louis. That type of thing really doesn’t happen in Colorado or California — I was floored. And scared.


Cher, thanks again for the fantastic thought and research you’ve put into this series.

This pastor, Steve Anderson, whom you cited is a truly appalling person. If anyone would like to don a gas mask and biohazard suit before listening to the following, you’ll get a jaw-dropping glimpse into a twisted, warped version of religion:


On the broader notion of free speech in general, though, Cher, what are your thoughts on the possibility that–later on–Progressives may need the protection of a fairly broad interpretation of the right of free speech?
If say–god forbid–there developed, down the road, a fascist government that used Blackwater type enforcers to repress dissent, would we not want some legal protection for advocating its overthrow? Theoretical question, of course, as I’m sure you know! 🙂