Something unpleasant this way comes, slouching toward Washington, D.C. to be born. If it reaches that far, it’s likely that both the Left and the Right will applaud its arrival; only freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution will suffer. It seems important to recall that not all freedoms contribute to everybody’s happiness.
For instance, a recent report described a university professor who tweeted, after the Navy Yard murders, to the effect that he hoped that the next such would involve the sons and daughters of NRA executives. When this was appreciated by a large enough sampling of Internet users to generate a rebound, the professor was put on indefinite suspension by his university. Conservative-leaning, pro-2nd Amendment folk seem pleased at this reaction.
There’s another story out there though: The police chief (and only full time officer in his small town) made internet videos of himself holding military type weapons and saying: “F–k all the Liberals…,” and was placed on suspension in response and a recent City Council vote passed to fire him. Apparently, conservatives are outraged by this action.
To be fair, it’s likely that the outraged crowd are not the same folk as those happy about the professor’s uncharitable tweets. But maybe they are, too. No way to know. And given this, it’s reasonable to assume that some happy with the cop’s termination are outraged about the professor’s placement on leave. Human nature is like that, right?
But those visiting the Bill of Rights and calling at the First Amendment find that the same rights apply to all, whether or not their exercise gladdens all who hear the ‘free speech.’ In fact, that equality of rights seems to be the point. And that brings us to some rather nervous current history in Britain and Canada as well as other, less surprising places.
We are now hearing increasingly of ‘hate speech.’ American laws forbidding violence have been grafted with heightened penalties when it is decided that the crime was accompanied with ‘hate.’ Hate crimes are more serious and punished worse in many places today, than the same crime without the ‘hate.’ And in Britain, Canada and other places, the same applies to what they have decided is: ‘offensive speech.’ So if you visit one of those places, best not say anything that might offend, it may be a crime and worse, even a hate crime, for which there are severe penalties. Conservative columnist Mark Steyn ran afoul of that when the Canadian government went after him for writing things about Islamists that Canadian Moslem political action groups decided to be offended by…
The worrisome part of this is, whether crime or speech, ‘hate’ is a state of mind and our science has still to figure out a reliable means for knowing that. With the crimes now, we let a jury guess at it. Since the severity of the penalty can be involved, I wouldn’t be too thrilled if I were being prosecuted. The whole idea of involving a state of mind in such proceeding is plain scary to me.
Our First Amendment has held off the idea of ‘hate speech’ becoming a criminal act, but that is the goal of some, encouraged by their success in other places. Like it or not, they are making progress, seems to me. We’re seeing increasing numbers of people being reprimanded, suspended or fired for stating their personal opinions publicly, even though the statements are made on their own time, in their own personal places or on the public communications facilities. Do you want your employer to control your personal political opinions, or how and where you state them away from work? But that’s what we’re seeing in these sorts of cases. And these things build toward government imposition of limits. We have ‘hate’ crimes; is ‘hate’ speech on the way? The court has already told us that free speech does not allow us to: “Yell ‘FIRE!’ in a crowded theater…”