In Response to: Limits to Free Speech

Published online Oct. 23, 2017

While reading the Sept. 13 edition of PAW, I was dismayed to read someone espousing the notion that “Hate speech is not protected as free speech.” I’d heard the claim before so, once again, I did as before: I Googled “is hate speech protected.” Sure enough, nothing has changed: Yes, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. Not a single entry on Google’s first page of results challenges this. Articles by the ACLU, The Washington Post, and the American Bar Association affirm it.

As to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, it is interesting to note that Oliver Wendell Holmes used this analogy to argue that protesting against conscription was not protected speech (Schenk v. U.S.).  I don’t imagine that those affirming the illegality of certain speech had this kind of speech in mind. Rightfully, the Schenk decision was overturned a few decades later. Moreover, some further browsing reveals that courts have ruled that even explicitly advocating violence is not illegal unless the advocacy is for “immediate and illegal” action.

The best way to fight white supremacists is to ignore them. They’re a relatively small group of morons who only grow bigger when given undeserved publicity. Remember Skokie, Ill.? Most don’t, and that’s a good thing.

Manny Vellon ’81
Bellevue, Wash.