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The Line between Free Speech and Hate Speech

Dec 19th, 2017 OWI The Line between Free Speech and Hate Speech

The First Amendment protects the free speech of every American in the United States. But the line between free speech and hate speech can sometimes become very blurry, leaving people to question whether an offensive or hateful remark is protected under free speech.

Back in 2010, this question was the focus for many in Michigan when assistant attorney general of Michigan, Andrew Shirvell, began a crusade against Chris Armstrong, the gay student body president of the University of Michigan.

The bottom line is really that under the First Amendment, people are free to speak their minds however they wish, even when their opinions are offensive or controversial. This is how groups like the Klu Klux Klan are still allowed to operate within America’s borders.

While people might not always agree with what other people and groups say, protecting free speech is important in an open and free society such as that of the United States.

But when does free speech turn into hate speech, and what regulations are there to prohibit free speech? There are not really any laws to stop a person from saying whatever they wish to say. While many believe that the First Amendment does not protect against hate speech that is simply untrue. Under the First Amendment, all speech is more or less protected.

The only difference between free speech and hate speech is when a person is openly making a threat, or perpetuating violence against a person of a certain race, color, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. To be considered true hate speech, the person would need to speak ‘fighting words’, meaning their speech would need to provoke violence or incite a riot.

Currently, there are no laws against hate speech in Michigan, or anywhere else in the United States for that matter. Legislatures and regulators are reluctant to create these laws as they may impede free speech, a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

But that does not mean that those who engage in hate speech are fully protected. When Shirvell went on his rampage against Armstrong, he was under the threat of losing his job, and the University of Michigan banned him from going onto their campus.

So, while there may not be specific laws defining the line between free speech and hate speech, it does not mean that offensive speech will be completely free from consequence. If an individual has been accused of perpetuating hate speech, they should consult a qualified Michigan attorney that can attempt to defend them and protect their rights.