The people who say rotten things and the people who want to punish them

Charles C.W. Cooke writes about “hate speech hogwash.”

There is no such thing as “hate speech” in American jurisprudence, nor is there any associated or comparable principle that comes close to it. Whatever moral determinations an individual might make about the hatefulness of a given set of words, there is simply no mechanism by which the government can back him up with force.

In the United States, there is speech, and then, at the bleeding edge, there are incitement, obscenity, and libel. Contrary to Dean’s implication, none of this country’s “beyond-free-speech” categories are defined by subjective judgments such as “hatefulness,” “cruelty,” or “divisiveness, and for good reason: If they were, we would all suffer under an effective Heckler’s Veto, and there would be no point in our having protections in the first instance….

Under the Brandenburg standard, she couldn’t phrase her words in such a way as to incite imminent lawbreaking — there is a difference between saying “I think the government should be overthrown” in the abstract, and saying to a group of armed rebels, “Meet me in a hour, let’s overthrow the government” — but what constitutes “imminence” and “incitement” are extremely narrowly drawn, and, in any case, “hate” doesn’t enter into it.

As has been shown time and time again — including recently in a case that involved the rights of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket funerals — were Howard Dean to bring his theory to the courts, he would be laughed out of them.  And so he should be.

I am no fan of Ann Coulter’s, and nor am I impressed by the turn that certain self-described “conservatives” have taken toward turning the movement into a haven for the worst sort of trolls. But if I have to choose between the people who say rotten things and the people who want to point bayonets at them, I’ll pick the former every time. That I’m being asked to make that choice illustrates the profound mistake that the contemporary Left is making on this question at present.

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