Certain types of speech can be classified as “hate speech,” and they often fall into a gray area between protected speech and unlawful speech.
Hate speech is often a poorly understood area of law. In many cases, hate crimes are prosecuted under federal law. If you have been charged with this type of crime, you should work with a Texas federal criminal defense lawyer
One of the fundamental tenets of the U.S. Constitution is the right to freedom of expression under the First Amendment. Modern Americans are so used to the notion that everyone should be allowed to freely express themselves, we sometimes forget how radical this idea was when the nation’s first lawmakers included it in the Bill of Rights.
We are all taught in school that we have a basic right to say how we feel—even in public. If you dislike something the government is doing, you can make speeches about it on the street corner or start a blog without fearing you will get arrested and thrown in jail for speaking out about the government.
But what about hateful speech? What about racial slurs and downright awful things that are offensive and inflammatory? Certain types of speech can be classified as “hate speech,” and they often fall into a gray area between protected speech and unlawful speech.
As with many areas of law, defining “hate speech” isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
The First Amendment Protects “Hateful Speech”
Although many phrases and saying are unkind and almost collectively frowned upon by our society, they are nevertheless protected by the First Amendment. In fact, there is no hate speech exception to the right to freedom of expression.
There are, however, narrow exceptions, including so-called “fighting words,” which the Supreme Court has held to mean a type of speech that is likely to lead to a physical fight. The Court addressed this in 1992 in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul. Over the years, the Court has also prohibited speech that is likely to incite violence, as well as speech that includes threats to commit a crime, such as murdering someone.
One of the difficulties posed by “hate speech” is that it has been historically tough to define. The Supreme Court has approached it on a case-by-case basis, carving out narrow exceptions that aren’t always easy to apply to future cases. Because our system of laws values the freedom of expression, the Court must be careful to balance the right to speak against the right of all citizens to be safe from violence and persecution.
Hate Speech Overseas
In other countries, hate speech has a much narrower definition. In countries like South Africa, where racial tensions are a constant powder keg, lawmakers are considering a law that would criminalize hate speech by making racial slurs a criminal offense. If the law passes, hate speech as defined by the new statute would be a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Currently, a white South African woman is facing charges and possible fines for using a racial slur directed toward two black police officers.
Hate speech is often a poorly understood area of law. In many cases, hate crimes are prosecuted under federal law. If you have been charged with this type of crime, you should work with a Texas federal criminal defense lawyer.
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SOURCE: Broden & Mickelsen