Published online Oct. 23, 2017
Marie Basile McDaniel ’01 wrote, “Hate speech is not protected as free speech” (Inbox, Sept. 13). That is not true. As John Villasenor pointed out in a Sept. 18, 2017, report for the Brookings Institution on a new survey of college students’ views regarding the First Amendment: “While ‘hate speech’ is odious,” it is constitutionally protected “as long as it steers clear of well-established exceptions to the First Amendment” such as “[t]rue threats” or speech that is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” That a person who graduated from Princeton 16 years ago would hold such an uninformed opinion is disquieting, to say the least.
“Hate speech” is so amorphous and malleable a term that its general acceptance among our citizenry (wait, was that hate speech?) threatens our freedom. For example, some might label as hate speech the observation of Mr. Villasenor that “[t]he very significant gender variation in the responses [to the question ‘does the First Amendment protect “hate speech”?’] is also noteworthy.” The strength of this country lies in vigorous debate about policy issues. The gravest threat to our way of life lies not in “hate speech,” but in the demand of those claiming a monopoly on virtue that any dissent to their positions be illegal to even discuss.