People of good will are deeply troubled by hate directed at fellow human beings. Governments increasingly use this righteous anger as a mechanism to expand control over content and viewpoint of speech.
Here in the United States, a top member of Joseph R. Biden’s transition team, Richard Stengel, has called for hate speech laws in the United States, upending our First Amendment guarantee that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”
Rather than banning speech, governments should protect the freedom of speech and religion. It’s up to us as individuals to use persuasion to counter hateful ideas.
Make no mistake. Hate circulates widely through all strata of society. Jews continue to be a common target. This past year, entertainer Nick Cannon used his wide-reaching platform to share age-old conspiracy theories of Jewish deception and control. Louis Farrakhan—a religious figure with millions of followers—infuses his sermons, writings, and appearances with anti-Semitic hate speech. Academics at leading institutions openly demonize the world’s only Jewish nation. Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has falsely accused Israel of being an “apartheid regime” and suggested Jewish Americans are commandeering U.S. foreign policy through political donations. Anti-Semitic activity abounds on college campuses across the nation.
So, what’s the proper response to such vile words?
First, governments should empower all individuals—including Jews and other minorities—by protecting their freedom of speech and religion. Proponents of hate often suppress these basic freedoms.
In the United States, this most notably occurs on college campuses where anti-Semites routinely target Jewish students by silencing speakers, interrupting private events, vandalizing private property with anti-Semitic messages, harassing Jewish students, blocking public passageways, and committing outright assault. Far from constitutionally protected speech, this behavior is physical—and often criminal—in nature.
Universities have an obligation to prevent or respond such behavior. To this end, President Trump issued an executive order in December 2019 reiterating that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act protects Jews—as well as every other race, color, national origin, and ethnicity—from discrimination at taxpayer-funded universities.
Second, all members of society should strive to defeat bad ideas with good ideas, through reason and persuasion. Although the government may not ban hate speech, individuals—including elected officials—possess the power to condemn those promoting this hate.
Parents must better equip the next generation with a grounding in history in order to inoculate youth against philosophical poison seeking to corrupt their minds and destroy their hearts. Educators must dispel, rather than perpetuate, the myths. Until this happens, demagogues will continue to propagate age-old anti-Semitic tropes. Without bare essentials of scholarship, even the intelligent fall prey to wild-eyed conspiracy theories. We must acknowledge how modern anti-Semitism is couched in anti-Israel rhetoric—defaming the world’s only Jewish state and denying the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland.
The safeguarding and exercise of First Amendment freedoms can successfully combat hate. This mindset stands in stark contrast to Mr. Stengel's opinion that “the intellectual underpinning of the First Amendment was engineered for a simpler era.” On the contrary, freedom of speech remains an inalienable human right, vital to ensuring future generations also enjoy the blessings of liberty.
A free people should be mindful of the totalitarian embrace—including by the former Soviet Union—of bans on hate speech. Giving government the power to prohibit the expression of universally repugnant ideas also risks the suppression of speech deemed a political threat.
Rather than entrust our freedom to the whim of politicians, let’s defeat those bad ideas by exercising of our own First Amendment liberties of speech and religion.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times