The Dangerous Crusade Against “Hate” Speech

George Heinrichs

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I am entirely against what was written on the walls of Ross last year, and I am proud to be a member of a community that speaks out against hate speech. What concerns me are some of the posters that MOQA (Middlebury Open Queer Alliance) put up around campus, bearing the slogan “Stop Hate Speech.” Something about those words resonated with me. Is it possible to “stop” hate speech? Is the purpose of stopping hate speech to ensure that everyone at Middlebury feels comfortable? Who decides what is hateful? The posters raise a serious issue—not just about hate speech, but free speech in general.

Stopping speech of any kind, no matter how obnoxious, risks stopping ideas. The opinions that make us most uncomfortable are the ones that need the most protection. That is why there is constitutional protection for free speech. If all speech were innocuous there would be no need to protect it. Scribbling a homophobic remark on a dean’s door is not the declaration of an idea. Make no mistake, whoever did this is no brave advocate of a repressed idea. Let’s agree that a foul attack on gays written on a dean’s door constitutes hate speech, and we should find ways, if there are ways, to prevent it from happening again. Yet let’s also distinguish the act from the dissemination of an offensive idea.

What if, instead of writing foul language at night, the student tried to publish an argument in The Campus claiming that homosexuality is a sin? What if he argued against gay marriage—a position held by 58% of Americans and most of the current presidential candidates? Is that hate speech? Though I would personally condemn the notion, I’d fight to give the homophobe the right to declare that phobia. Isn’t this the best way to battle speech that offends us— by meeting it head on, and addressing it?

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