The elderly owner of an NBA team spouts racist comments in private that are secretly being recorded. The league ends up punishing him, but is that enough? Should government do something to punish people who say such things?
Hateful and hurtful comments abound daily on the Internet. Sometimes people who harbor such feelings end up committing crimes. Should government monitor cyberspace and take action against such speech?
To students of the United States Constitution and its origins, the answers to such questions are clear. The nations Founding Fathers exhibited extraordinary wisdom when they added a Bill of Rights to the Constitution that included, in its First Amendment, a guarantee of free speech, free press and the free exercise of religion.
The natural inclination of most people in power is to suppress dissent and put an end to ideas that might threaten their power. But the Founders understood that ideas, like commerce, flourish best in a free marketplace, and that the best way to combat hatred and falsehood is to do so head-on, with logic, reason and persuasion.
That wisdom has become only more self-evident since their day.
A government that attempts to ban speech cannot ban the ideas behind that speech.
Left uncontested in societys dark corners, false and dangerous ideas can fester and grow until they burst again into view, too large to confront with reason. On the other end of the spectrum, a government concerned with speech may ban good ideas merely because it perceives them to be a threat.
Unfortunately, Americans are not born with an understanding of these fundamental notions of freedom. Each generation must confront them anew.
One of the most disturbing recent manifestations of this is a bill being sponsored by Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. It would empower the federal government to analyze information on the use of telecommunications, including the Internet, broadcast television and radio, cable television, public access television, commercial mobile services and other electronic media, to advocate and encourage violent acts and the commission of crimes of hate.
This analysis would end with a report that includes recommendations for addressing such hate speech, as long as these are consistent with the First Amendment.
See original here:
In our opinion: Can't tackle hate speech without shredding First Amendment