Should freedom of speech and expression have limits?
3 Oct 2021
Words are very powerful. They can be violent. We always hear “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But words do hurt. Many people fall subject to verbal bullying. While we do have freedom of speech in the United States, there should be a limit on it.
One key example of how words are so powerful is the Constitution itself. Words are subjective. In order to help prevent any confusion, we rely on limitations of meanings. The way that the Supreme Court rules based on their interpretation of the Constitution is a limitation. There are constant limitations on free speech, whether we recognize it or not.
Hate speech, as mentioned in the opposing argument, is quite broad. It’s hard to say what is or isn’t hateful. Who gets to decide that? I believe that instead of putting a broad overarching limit on that, we should be able to self-regulate. We should learn to recognize what hate speech means in various contexts. For example, if we recognize that our speech is becoming slanderous or harmful to another person, it should be frowned upon.
Free speech relies on honesty, peacefulness and respect. I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This is the opinion section where we allow that freedom of speech to occur. However, a line must be drawn sometimes. For example, an opinion that promotes the idea of something such as the Holocaust or genocide where millions of people died in unacceptable. It threatens the safety and security of millions of more people. In an outlet meant to inform, we cannot allow for pure freedom of speech, unfortunately. Just as there are social boundaries (such as personal bubbles and customs on how to greet strangers), there need to be boundaries for speech.
It’s hard to say we need limitations. No one enjoys being told what they can and cannot do. But we need some restrictions to protect the safety and honor of the American people. There comes a time when the priority should be the safety of the citizens and if that means having to limit our freedom of speech, then so be it. It’s impossible to have pure freedom. Everything comes with a cost. Speech is no exception.
The First Amendment states in part that Congress shall make no law “…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.” In this text, I can see no limitation of speech that would be consistent with the meaning of this amendment. Any limitation of speech would result in a direct contradiction of the statement above.
To further strengthen the legal case for unlimited free speech, I’ll refer to Article VI, Clause 2 of the Constitution, which states in part that “this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof… shall be the supreme law of the land.” So, not only does the First Amendment favor unlimited free speech, but it is part of a Constitution which is clearly placed as the ultimate legal authority of the United States. If there is any concern about free speech that would justify limitations, the only legal option would be to pass a constitutional amendment that revises the First Amendment. However, that is very difficult, since either two-thirds of Congress or two-thirds of state legislatures must approve the revision, which is a huge political hurdle.
However, legal arguments such as this are not convincing enough to most people, including myself. Legal arguments must be supported by a logical conclusion as to why the current law is justified. In this case, the consequences of limiting free speech are dire and well documented throughout human history. Limitations on the free exercise of speech promote the rise of authoritarian and repressive governments. The issue that arises with these proposals is that the meaning of political speech is almost entirely subjective. In other words, its meaning is subject to the interpretation of the listener. For example, if somebody says that they want to impose limits on immigration, one person may interpret it as a manifestation of racism, while another may interpret it simply as a proposed solution to economic stagnation.
Due to the subjective nature of speech, it is difficult to determine what kind of speech should be limited. This lack of clarity makes it very easy for an oppressive government to use speech limits to violate the natural rights of political minorities. This phenomenon holds, even for cases of hate speech. For anybody at MTU who supports suppression of hate speech, what defines hate speech? It is a very difficult question to answer exactly. Do you really want the government or the university to determine that answer for you? In conclusion, words are the manifestation of ideology. They are not violence. The best way to suppress speech that is deemed hateful is not to suppress it, but to counter it with better, more reasonable ideas.
Free speech should have its limits. The ability to mentally harm someone is an act that should never be allowed. However, it is. Countries with free speech that have no regulations constantly raise awareness for cyber bullying and other forms of hate but that has never been enough. Recently, a former k-pop star, Sulli, had committed suicide due to cyber bullying. Fans all around the world had been demanding for limits with free speech that should be implemented in South Korea. This act, the Sulli Act, was promised to be discussed in the Korean National Assembly. I believe that if words can torture someone enough to take their own life, there should be a few sacrifices made. This should be the first step to the betterment of our grey society.
While there are people who use their freedom of speech to provoke hate, there are many people that use it as a way to create peace and express their voice. Having this freedom to express one’s own voice, while also listening to other opinions makes us all consider each other’s perspective; even if one doesn’t fully agree. Although this process requires patience, it will eventually get us to where we want to be.
- by Dr. Meghul Chadha