The need to alter the First Amendment

Subject: Law
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 1082
Topics: Communication, Constitution, First Amendment, Government, Hate Speech

Hate speech is one of the most controversial topics in the USA. There are some instances when hate speech has made it to the Supreme Court in regards to its legality in the US constitution. Hate speech is the use of words that are considered demeaning to another person or group of persons and can create a detrimental effect on the society. The US Supreme Court has in many occasions moved to affirm that the US Constitution protects the First Amendment and, therefore, hate speech is protected and should not be punished. However, there are many detrimental effects that come as a result of hate speech. This paper will argue that there is need to change the First Amendment to accommodate punishment of hate speech as a result of the many detrimental effects that it has on the society.

According to Trager, Russomanno & Susan Dente Ross, (117) in Virginia vs. Black in 2013, it was found that some form of hate speech could are punishable if the speaker intended to cause harm to the listener. This harm must be in the form of fear of body harm of death. However, it can be noted that the Supreme Court’s argument is that all rules and laws meant to provide a prevention of hate speech must narrow down to specific threats. For this reason, it is important for the society to make changes to the current state of First Amendment to ensure that it takes into consideration some of those speeches that are not only detrimental to others but have the capacity of making a certain group of people feel inferior.

Hate speech usually undermines the public good that is brought about by a sense of security in the space that people inhabit. Hate speech undermines the said public good not only through the process of intimidation but also through violence as well as the process of reawakening what the society was like before. It is important for the citizens of the United States to understand that we are diverse in terms of ethnicity, the races, and the appearance and in terms of the religions that we all have. On the same note, the society has a challenge of living together and working in the same environments despite the many differences that we have. It is the culture of the western societies to allow everyone to become a part of the society and feel respected and equal. This sense of inclusiveness is what makes the western society a democratic and a unique society. Hate speech, therefore, causes an environmental threat to the social peace. For instance, imagine a situation where one puts a billboard written Muslims and 9/11. Despite the provisions of the First Amendment, such words are detrimental to the Muslim community as it creates fear of discrimination especially to those who are innocent and those actively engaged in nation building. Such forms of speech have the capacity of turning one society against another leading to waves of violence across the nation.

The other reason why the first Amendment should be altered to make hate speech punishable is because no rights are absolute and there should be no attempt to make them absolute. All the rights are limited by the respect accorded to others as well as the needs of the society as a whole. It is important to understand that the freedom of speech is a fundamental value, but it is not the only one. There are other important values that require being safeguarded as they are important as well. These include human dignity, equality of all people. The freedom of living without discrimination as well as intimidation, and the mutual respect between the members of the society. Hate speech usually threatens the existence of these rights, and for this reason, it is important to put up regulations that prevent any attempt by a person to make any utterances that are considered derogative against a certain group of people. One thing that should be clear is that diversity and inclusiveness are fundamental, but they are also fragile in the American society. The protection of the dignity of the vulnerable minorities should be an obligation that is not only for the government but also for the individuals. The implication is that the law should be in a position to force people to refrain from actions that undermine the dignity of other people.

Jeremy Waldron in his book “The Harm in Hate Speech” argues that in most cases, racial hate speech plants the thought in the mind of the minority person that there is someone who does not want him around. He asserts that this is as damaging as a physical assault and should, therefore, be taken as a crime. He proceeds to argue that he does not advocate for laws that protect against being offended. In his view, people should be allowed to be as offensive to others as they like but with limits. In my understanding, it is okay to attack religion or culture based on its founders, but it is not right to attack the believers. For example, one can attack Islam and Mohammed, but the dignity of the Muslims has to be protected.

The direct harm argument can also be used to support the call for the alternation of the First Amendment. It can be argued that hate speech can cause psychological harm to a person the same way that violence from hate speech causes physical harm. For example, children abused as ‘paki,’ ’terrorists,’ and ‘queer’ suffer in the same way that the physically bullied people suffer. On the same note, verbal abuse, when it comes to adults, can make life unbearable, especially in the workplace, the educational centers as well as other environments. The implication is that despite the protection of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment, there is need to alter the law in a way that it would punish instances when psychological harm arises from hate speech (Sumner, 380).

Looking at the argument above, it is clear that the society today is diverse in terms of color, race, appearance and religion. It has taken a long journey to achieve the policies of inclusiveness, and we should not let something like hate speech be the one to end the age-old fight for equality. We need laws that call for everyone to behave or act in a certain way to ensure that the rights of all citizens are protected.

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  1. Sumner, L. W., and Jeremy Waldron. “The Harm in Hate Speech.” (2013): 377-383.
  2. Waldron, Jeremy. The Harm in Hate Speech. Harvard University Press, (2012).
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