Hate speech is often misunderstood because it can be classified as either careless or intentionally hurtful. Many people interpret careless statements as acts of aggression, but with good reason. It would be false to say that the freedom of speech has never been manipulated to inflict damage upon others. Questions have been risen of what hate speech is and if it should be allowed to be viewed by public access. Alan M. Dershowitz delivers an enumerative definition of the term by asserting all speech that criticizes another’s race, religion, gender, ethnicity, appearance, class, physical or mental capabilities, or sexual preference. However simply defining hate speech by listing out its various forms only amplifies its definition, but it fails to clarify. Vicki Chiang manages to provide a more analytical understanding of the term by listing the various forms of the act and addressing the effects upon all involved. Dershowitz’s list of hurtful instances of hate speech conveys a definition of the term as a whole, but does not cover all forms hate speech. Hate speech is any action that conveys a critical perception of an opinion which criticizes a group in a harmful manner. By addressing all forms of hate speech and considering all involved it can be concluded that though such media is often viewed as offensive, it should not be censored by a legislative body that advocates freedom of speech. In a library, one should be allowed access to the records of the past in order to prepare for the future, despite the severity of the content.
As a public place designed to encourage mental stimulation, obstruction of knowledge in a library is a sociological setback. Hindering a nation’s source of intellectual growth and the entire potential of the country, will inevitably do more harm than it can good. Though one may argue that the preservation of information regarding such events could inspire new acts of hate, the past will shed light on what to do in such situations. People need to understand why the statements made in the past did not always justify their actions. It is our cultural history that provides us with insight of what is just and what is prejudiced.
Cultural values feed off freedom of expression, whether it is through censorship or the proclamation of beliefs and feelings. Such a liberty is the foundation of our country, and should not be obstructed in a place of common ground such as a library. America consists of a government that allows for various ideologies to thrive. When a library begins to lean towards any one of these ideologies, an obstruction is placed in the path of the others. This country was not designed to favor an ideology, but to allow for all belief systems to co-exist. Often whenever a certain belief system grows too popular it rules the ideals of the law makers. Furthermore, the manufactures of internet filtering software will have biased ideologies of the viewing material and will be unable to satisfy everyone. Those who do not agree are not represented and often times easily targeted through acts of intolerance thus creating a state of repression rather than progression.
There is no way to determine who decides what is safe to view and what is not. A party’s views could obstruct the distribution of vital information necessary to our society’s progression. A move to censor the opinions of others could be detrimental to a nation whose “right to a freedom speech has allowed us to generate a great intellectual community where information and opinions flow freely” (Chiang 428). Freedom of opinion is especially essential to the lawmaking process. The people should always have the power. Taking away the freedom to voice an opinion, is equivalent to taking away the power of the people. Like many others, Chiang feels “The censorship of the Internet in public libraries would be an infringement of the First Amendment” (Chiang 428). Concurring with Chiang, Dershowitz feels the country should be “an open marketplace of ideas in which hate speech is rejected on its own demerits” (Dershowitz 426). It is the decision of the people what is to be considered audible for all ears. Freedom of debate relies upon the right of free speech. Dershowitz further explains, “we in a society founded on equal protection of the law – be selective about what constitutes hate speech or who has the power to censor if offended” (Dershowitz 426). I used the exact punctuation from Creating America Dershowitz emphasizes the variety of hate crimes to show that a common agreement on censorship is unlikely. Therefore one can deduce that whatever degree of censorship the government decides to set, will always make somebody unhappy. No medium can be reached.
Withholding offensive material for the sake of not offending others is detrimental to the principle of freedom of individual expression. Such a freedom should always be guaranteed. Dershowitz explains this inherent belief that “Americans tend to feel very strongly about their opinions, especially if they involve race, religion, ethnicity, sexual preference and ideology and express these views using very strong words”(Dershowitz 425). Censorship cannot prevent the intolerance of many minority groups because the suppression of hate speech will silence, but not extinguish, racist or sexist thoughts and behaviors (Cowan al 250). However, unrestricted speech provides an open forum in which people can challenge the views of others and provide an alternative perspective (Cowan al 250). With the power of free speech comes the power of persuasion. In turn this leads to the spreading of new ideas whether positive or negative. Commonly held ideologies stem from the acceptance of wide spread beliefs. Despite the morality of the expression of these views the legality of their audibility should not be obstructed. Hate speech holds important functional values that form the basis of common law that protects society.
Opponents of hate speech censorship do not deny the harm that minority groups have had to endure. Often censorship is manipulated to maintain the influence that the current belief system holds on its people. Censorship of hate speech is often directed towards the proclamation of freedom of gay and lesbian couples because their presence threatens the ideal American image of family. Dershowitz explains “To many gays, homophobic speech is hateful; to some literal readers of the Bible, advocacy of a gay life style is a hateful abomination” (Dershowitz 424). Free speech in general affects different groups of people in different ways. Like Alan Dershowitz’s states; “Plainly, the concept of hate speech is in the mind of the beholder” (Dershowitz 424). The voicing of free speech is viewed as a powerful instrument that has contributed greatly to the success and advancement of many minority groups. Speech free of censorship has been vital to historical movements such as the gay and lesbian and women’s rights. “It is this unrestricted freedom that has provided the political platform from which these groups have begun to lower barriers and redefine social norms” (Cowan al 249).
Censoring hate speech would filter other important information as well. Sites containing vital information are commonly blocked because they contain certain red flag words which signal to Bess, an internet filtering software company, that such a site is too controversial. According to Peacefire.org, Bess blocks websites that supplies support for rape victims, homosexuals, and those seeking emergency contraceptive advice. One of the links from Peacefire’s page blocks access to emergency contraceptive pill information at Princeton.org. This site supplies teenagers with information on “preventing pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse.” The term sexual intercourse and emergency contraception would most defiantly be blocked by a software system such as Bess. Information about contraception is considered hate speech by certain individuals who appose the prevention of natural conception. In certain circumstances contraception is a necessary action. Without access to the website containing vital information due to Bess, so-called hate speech will prevent further options needed by individuals. This proves the fact that there is no way to develop a rule which can strictly separate what is considered offensive and what is not. Even if a rule vague enough to separate such material were established, and accepted by minority groups, such an abstract an idea could never be implemented by the government into computer code.
Government censorship in public libraries and the learning process are an incompatible combination. In any efforts the government might make to protect students from hate speech, the students are deprived of the right to make up their own minds and form opinions. Development of individual opinion is one of the core concepts that the founding fathers of this country had in mind while designing the sociological structure of this nation. Creative freedom has been discouraged when individual pieces of work reflect a fear of censorship or punishment for the claims suggested by an individual. Inherent persuasive tactics such as censorship in a learning environment often place a cap on the intellectual development of the student. How will students learn to identify and cope with bad ideas or negative arguments if they are not exposed to them or allowed to express their opinion on them? The answer for many educational institutions is to simply ignore the existence of controversial topics (Dority). This in turn promotes the idea that when one comes up with his own opinions, he is only allowed to voice them if they are politically correct. Discouragement of individuality hinders new ideas. New ideas are the basis for development, and without development, society cannot progress. This is why individual thought should be encouraged and not censored. A biased informant can easily shape the beliefs of the student to believe in the same manner. However the development of such beliefs is not education, but merely preaching. Oftentimes when people engage in preaching, they get emotionally caught up and allow their feelings to over rule their sense of rationale, often failing to think things through. This act hinders development of society and violates our right of individual belief.
Due to the various forms of hate speech, there can never be one true judge of what is to be censored and what is not to be. Our society has always encouraged the progression of knowledge. However the form and accessibility of this material is often questioned. Though many may argue that censorship protects, it often cripples the intellectual mind and soul. Denying certain offensive information to those seeking knowledge in a library tells the public that thought differing from the current era’s ethos will no be tolerated. Therefore an action such as censoring the internet in a library is not even ideally plausible, because there is no just way of doing so. Oftentimes material is often misinterpreted as hateful, and is considered grounds for censorship whereas it was intended for certain value. Even if there was an ethical way of handling this situation, this act violates the very principles on which this country was founded. Ethical stances on such material should not be formed by the mere existence of its controversy, but rather through individual study and personal conclusion. Definition of character is founded upon an individual’s desire to educate himself. Individuality should not be discouraged, when discretion is advised.
Chiang, Vicki. “Libraries, the Internet, and Freedom of Speech.” Joyce Moser and Ann
Dershowitz, Alan M. “What is Hate Speech?” Joyce Moser and Ann Watters 424-426
Dority, Barbara. “Filtering: Just Another Form of Censorship.” Humanist 59.2 (1999).
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Kelly, cited by Cowen, et al.
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Strossen, cited by Cowen, et al.