The Authoritarian Left Has a Dangerous Vision for Free Speech in America

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

In America, we tend to take freedom of expression for granted. Unlike all other nations, our nation’s founding legal document goes to great lengths to prevent the government from telling us what we can and cannot say under the threat of punishment. This right has been one of our most cherished since America was founded. Now, it is under attack by those who would rather adopt the model of other countries when it comes to speech.

You might have seen the story about Yorkshire police officers in the United Kingdom abusing and arresting a 16-year-old autistic girl for using the word “lesbian” during an encounter between her mother and the authorities.

Footage of the altercation went viral on social media:

In Great Britain, the ancestral home of George Orwell, one cannot comment on another’s sexual orientation without being pulled out of your home and arrested on the spot. Recently, an autistic girl called a Brit officer (aka gender thug) a “lesbian.” Apparently, that word is illegal in Great Britain. The blonde bobbie with a bob hairdo decided that she couldn’t arrest a 100 lb. girl without help, so she called for reinforcements. Seven speech cop colleagues strongarmed the girl to the ground and arrested her. In Great Britain, seven thugs are needed to arrest an autist girl because a cop was “mislabeled” or something.

Warning: tweet below contains coarse language

In America, we like to think this could never happen here. The First Amendment protects us from those who would send thugs with guns and badges to throw us into jail cells for daring to utter words that do not strike their fancy. Yet, as we go about our everyday lives, authoritarians at all levels of government are developing strategies to get around that pesky Constitution of ours to find other ways to silence people.

So far, they have accomplished their objectives through online censorship and intimidation. But there are some pushing for laws that would enable the state to employ harsher means for suppressing dissent.

Mari Matsuda, an academic involved in the critical race theory (CRT) movement, is one of many who do not believe the First Amendment applies universally – especially when it comes to hate speech used against members of marginalized communities. She differentiates between possessing the right to speak out against institutions like the government and others and the right to direct vile speech against those who are the least powerful. The scholar wished to create a legal doctrine that would impose government limits on hate speech, especially if it promoted the idea that oppressed races are inferior to others.

Richard Delgado, another pioneer of CRT, expressed similar sentiments in a 1982 article, titled “Words that Wound: A Tort Action for Racial Insults, Epithets, and Name-Calling.” He referenced a United State Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruling in Collin v. Smith which affirmed the rights of Nazis to stage a march featuring swastikas and other imagery in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois:

It is surprising, especially after Collin, that the question whether racial insults are protected by the first amendment has not arisen in any case involving a racial insult. Until it does, the extent to which free speech considerations would shape the cause of action must remain an open question. No reported decision is on point; analysis can proceed only by examination of the nature of racial insults and the policies that underlie the first amendment.

Under first amendment doctrine, regulation of expressive activities is scrutinized more closely when directed at content of the speech rather than merely at the time, place, or manner of the speech in question. Because racial insults differ from ordinary, non-actionable insults precisely because they use racial terms for the purpose of demeaning the victim, a tort for racial insults will almost surely be seen as a regulation of content and thus be subject to the more exacting scrutiny afforded in such cases. But regardless of the standard applied, courts ultimately must balance the government’s interest against that of the utterer of the infringed speech.

These are only two examples of hard leftists who believe the First Amendment should not protect hate speech – but there are many more. It would be foolish to believe that some day, these people could not succeed in making this happen.

If certain conditions are met, the authoritarian left could manage to gain enough support to impose hate speech laws in the United States. Let’s say the elite media and Democratic politicians decide to hyperfocus on instances involving supposed hate speech. They could be incidents – real and faked – in which people use racial slurs and other epithets against racial minorities and members of the LGBTQ community. In fact, some of these scenarios might not even need to involve slurs – we have already seen that progressives have a rather expansive view of what constitutes hate speech.

Other incidents could showcase “hate crimes,” in which individuals engage in behavior that should be addressed by the state. All it takes are some high-profile mass shootings or other types of atrocities perpetrated against a specific group of people for members of the leftist intelligentsia to play on people’s emotions. Using these incidents as a way to curry support for government intervention would not be difficult for the highly skilled propagandists in the elite press.

When they have enough support for these measures, they could start with civil liability. If someone says something like “men are men and women are women,” perhaps a transgender individual who was in earshot could file a lawsuit against the supposed offender. In this way, the woke crowd could essentially punish people for speech by using the court system to extort them for their hard-earned cash. Later, when Matsuda and Delgado’s ilk manage to convince people that these words actually constitute a form of violence, they might be able to push for criminal laws, which would create situations in the United States similar to what we saw in the United Kingdom.

The argument would be that using state force to punish people for problematic speech can deter behavior that is harmful to society. They would claim it would decrease violence against racial minorities and members of the LGBTQ community. Of course, this would be a lie, but that doesn’t matter, does it?

It is important also to note that what these people are proposing isn’t related only to slurs and epithets. Their ultimate goal is to use the government to punish even opinions and ideas that contradict progressivism. If these people had their way, they would have locked people in cages for spreading “conspiracy theories” and expressing dissenting ideas on COVID-19 and vaccines. This is where they want to take the nation. Will this happen overnight? It’s not likely, but if those who value liberty are not paying attention, it could happen in our lifetimes.



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