Monday’s Mtg: Should the Constitution Ban Extreme (Hate) Speech?

Did you know that what constitutes “hate speech” is a big legal issue these days?  Campus speech codes are banning it and, in the process, trying to redefine it.  The federal government is prosecuting people for aiding and supporting terrorism in ways that were not illegal before 9/11.  More and more anti-gay expression is thought of  as hate speech – in the minds of many Americans if not uniformly by the courts.  So, I think this topic from Zelekha is a great one to update us on another important public issue, and discomfit both progressives and conservatives a bit.

(Note:  I mistakenly used the term, “extreme speech” in the topic title, which can include obscenity and defamation, too.  But, Zelekha’s idea was really to look at hate speech.)

As with all the topics we do on legal and constitutional issues, this can get pretty detailed and dry.  I’ve linked to a few longer, more technical articles as well as some basic ones.  In my opening, I will make no attempt to give a legal theory lecture, but I will make some general remarks framing the issue.


  1. What is “hate speech?”  Does it have a single legal definition in the United States?
  2. How long did it take in the U.S. to develop our current understanding of the Constitution’s lack of restrictions on hate speech?  What changed in society/law to allow a more liberal understanding of permissible speech?
  3. Other countries limit hate speech far, far more than we do.  Why?  What arguments are used to say we (1) are and (2) are not better off for it?
  4. What are the current frontiers of hate speech law and policy?  What do you think of campus speech codes, restrictions on anti-LGBT speech, bullying and cyber-bullying, and other issues discussed in the links?
  5. How can much of anything be regulated in a digital age?  Can/should we try to tame Internet speech?


Next Week: Election Post-Mortem.  What does it all mean?


One response

  1. As a First Amendment absolutist, I am against any restrictions. But this may be a luxury which only a few countries can afford.

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