Lessie Jones pointed out that “hate speech” and “free speech” are not the same thing. As a result, there is a need to curtail this right in order to promote empathy and respectful coexistence rather than hatred and emotional suffering. In this respect, this paper discusses the limits on free expression in the United States and decides whether or not these constraints are too stringent. Furthermore, this paper provides suggestions for the inclusion of speech restrictions that denigrate disadvantaged minority communities, such as same-sex spouses, and assesses whether these recommendations are politically feasible. The limits to the freedom of speech in the United States are stipulated in the first amendment, and the unprotected categories include obscenity, child pornography, fighting words and incitement to violent action (Asad et al., p.78). For a speech to be considered obscene, it must pass the Miller test which was determined in the Miller V California. The Miller test asserts that speech is obscene if it appeals to sexual desire, if it offensively expresses sexual conduct or if it lacks political, scientific or artistic value (Maussen, Marcel &Ralph Grillo, p.180). Additionally, the first amendment does not protect child pornography under the freedom of speech. Child pornography is defined as a visual representation that depicts underage children performing sexual acts or exhibiting their genitals. However, this exception does not include pornography that encourages viewers to harm children or one that people perceive to be harmful when shown to children. Thirdly, the use of fighting words is an exception in the provisions of the freedom of speech (Mausen et al., p.184). In the case of Chaplinsky V New Hampshire, fighting words were defined as direct personal insults that in the ordinary mans perspective, are likely to provoke a violent reaction and therefore culminate to an immediate breach of peace. Besides, a speech that aims to incite people to engage in lawless action is unprotected in the United States and therefore illegal.
Since First Amendment was made in 1784, it is no doubt that a lot has happened since then and therefore, the provisions regarding the freedom of speech may not capture todays circumstances and events. For instance, freedom of the internet is usually viewed as unregulated, and today, the news is awash with stories of people using Twitter or Facebook to express sexist or racist claims (MacKinnon et al., p.40). Furthermore, the first amendment failed to protect children against exposure to pornographic materials, and thus, exceptions to freedom of speech in the constitution are not restrictive enough.
Not so long ago, America was forced to come to terms with disturbing comments made by Westboro Baptist Church Members regarding the U.S Military killed in the war. Some of the comments were, God Hates Fags and Thank God for Dead Soldiers, (Asad et al., p.78). The church used these derogatory remarks to express its opposition to same-sex marriage. It is for this reason that the country should have a limitation on freedom of speech that seeks to protect vulnerable minority groups from demeaning comments and sentiments. Civil rights movement and LGBT groups are likely to support this cause since it would move the country towards the ideals of equality and respect for all.
The proposal above is likely to face scathing attacks from the majority of the citizens since they may also argue that there should be a limitation on speech by minority groups that is likely to cause harm to the majority (Maussen et al., p.184). However, intensive lobbying and seeking support from various interest groups and influential people in the government would make a limitation on speech that demeans vulnerable minority groups a reality.
Asad, Talal, et al. Is critique secular? blasphemy, injury, and free speech. Oxford University Press, 2013.
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 62 S. Ct. 766, 86 L. Ed. 1031 (1942).
MacKinnon, Rebecca, et al. Fostering freedom online: The role of internet intermediaries. UNESCO Publishing, 2015.
Maussen, Marcel, and Ralph Grillo. “Regulation of speech in multicultural societies: Introduction.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 40.2 (2014): 174-193.
Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15, 93 S. Ct. 2607, 37 L. Ed. 2d 419 (1973).