The Constitution Does Not Protect Hate Speech

Today on the New Haven green, a group of men and one woman were standing on the corner of Chapel St. and Temple St., preaching into a headset microphone and passing out fliers. Anyone who was standing at the bus stop was forced to listen to them because they were so loud. We could not shut them out unless we went to the other side of the green. They were basically taking advantage of our necessity to take the city bus, to force their religion on us. Freedom of religion also means freedom FROM religion. Under no circumstances can you force me to hear, practice, preach or worship any part of a religion.

This morning I arrived at the green, at about 11:45. One of the men was trying to get my attention with asking if “God” is in my life and I shook my head no. He responded with “That’s very sad that you don’t have God in your life”. So I fired back, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

I carried on with my day. Upon calling my mother to see if we could meet up downtown, she told me that these people were still on the green, and had approached her in a threatening manner. In addition to the fact that upsetting my mother makes me upset, there are at least 30 people standing on that corner at any given time. None of these individuals did anything when this incident occurred.

When I got to the green, this group had moved to the fountain. The man who was preaching this time, started saying things like “Interracial marriage shouldn’t be allowed”, and “Gay people are disgusting”. So they evolved from prostituting their religion to hate speech. I called the police. Here is the conversation I had with dispatch:

Me: (I described where I was and what I had heard)
Dispatch: M’am we’ll send an officer out there but if they have a permit they are allowed to exercise free speech.
Me: Sir, I understand what you are saying but I don’t agree. The Constitution doesn’t protect hate speech. This behavior is just so hurtful.
Dispatch: Okay, we’ll send someone out as soon as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with what the officer said. He was very polite during my conversation with him. But I think hate speech often gets miss-categorized as free speech. Please see the following article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_speech_in_the_United_States#Exclusions
Hate speech falls under the categories of “fighting words”, and obscenities. Fighting words are emotionally abusive, and can evoke rage in the victim which may make that person act aggressively. Some fighting words are more obvious than others, but I promise you it took everything in my being not to walk up to that man and start screaming in his face.

I’m sure you are familiar with the Ku Klux Klan to an extent, so I’d rather touch on a hate group that you may not have heard about. “Westboro Baptist Church” are notorious for arriving at funerals where the deceased identified as LGBT, and protesting homosexuality with signs saying “God hates fags”. They even attempted to picket the funerals of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Aside from the fact that they are tormenting the loved ones of the deceased, they are exercising hate speech, and many people have repeatedly called for them to be named as a hate group. (I am not entirely sure if that has in fact happened yet).

This may be a moot point, but I feel like religious speech can, in certain situations, be considered hate speech, or at least fighting words/obscene. My thinking behind this is that if a Christian goes up to a Muslim and says “you need God in your life”, that’s obscene. Obscenity is usually defined as a sexual act which is considered offensive or disgusting by moral and societal standards. Obscenity is also derogatory terms, like fag, nigger, etc. Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote the following:

“The basic guidelines for the trier of fact must be: (a) whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest, (b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and (c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Read that again, but this time replace “work” with “word”. Suddenly it applies to that statement, “you need God in your life”. Even when taken out of context, this statement is aggressive, and clearly implies that the receiver does not worship God altogether, or does not worship God based on the user’s standards of proper worship. This statement lacks value in regard to science, politics, art and literature because it’s intent is to cause harm to the receiver, or at the very least, make them feel bad because of their choice of religion and/or atheism.

Now, some people would say that no words should be censored, and we should be able to say whatever we want when we want. This makes some sense to me, because people who read too much into things and become offended by things which are not offensive, are really annoying. This includes people who read blogs with warnings about swear words, and complain about the swear words. But, without limitations on what we say, we end up with limitations on our protection as individuals and as a nation. Threatening to harm civilians and government officials, including the President, would be legal without exclusions. Westboro Baptist Church would be able to picket a six year old’s funeral with a sign that says “God hates fags”. An employer could go up to his or her employee and ask for a blowjob, and it would not be considered obscene/sexual harassment. Never-mind the reality that a society without limits on speech would lead to an extreme lack of a moral compass, and chaotic behavior.

I want to leave you with a question: Should a person or group with the appropriate permit be allowed to solicit at a bus stop? Why or why not?

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