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Toxic Speech: Does free Speech give us the right to hurt others?

Good morning. A federal judge spoke at Stanford Law School. Chaos ensued.

Stanford University.Ben Margot/Associated Press



To see what took place at Stanford watch it here:



I came across this article, A Hecklers Veto, by Ben Margot at the New York Times today and I was shocked to see what had taken place at Stanford. Ben Margot laid out the incident that occurred when a conservative Federal Appeals Court Judge appointed by Donald Trump spoke at Stanford University's Law School last week. The speech was interrupted by many angry students who were triggered and upset by what Judge Duncan was speaking about. When the judge asked for help from an administrator to quiet the crowd, the Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion stated, "For many people here, your work has caused harm,” I watched the video from the room and she was noticeably uncomfortable with nothing prepared but spoke gracefully from her heart to create a safe space where dialogue was valued and encouraged so long as it had purpose of furthering understanding and not furthering the divide... and causing harm. She addressed the disparity of power and how Judge Duncan's words are not just a different opinion but alter lives by removing people's human rights with a stroke of his pen. And she is exactly right!

Since this explosive meeting many other people have written about the incident, and it has gained national attention. I included a link to the video of the meeting so you can watch it for yourself and draw your own conclusion. Personally, I disagree with Judge Duncan and what he stands for including, his opposition to the right to same-sex marriage and his ruling to restrict abortion, and block Covid vaccine mandates and deny basic rights to vulnerable people. I know I would be offended and upset listening to Judge Duncan speak and if not for my insatiable curiosity, I would have joined my peers and walked out in protest. But, putting aside my opinion, what about freedom of speech? Should people have a right to their 1st amendment at the expense of others?

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees individuals the right to free speech, including the right to express opinions, beliefs, and ideas without censorship or government intervention. However, the question arises as to whether people should have the right to freedom of speech if it harms others.

On one hand, freedom of speech is a fundamental human right that allows individuals to express their thoughts, opinions, and beliefs without fear of punishment or persecution. It is the cornerstone of a democratic society, enabling citizens to participate in public discourse, challenge authority, and advocate for change. Importantly, the First Amendment is a crucial protection for minorities, allowing them to speak out against injustice and inequality.

On the other hand, there are instances when the exercise of free speech can cause harm to others. Hate speech, for example, can incite violence, spread bigotry, and create a hostile environment for marginalized communities. Speech that promotes falsehoods or conspiracy theories can spread confusion, undermine public trust, and pose a threat to public health and safety. In such cases, the harm caused by speech can outweigh the benefits of free expression.

The question then becomes where to draw the line between protected speech and harmful speech. In general, the courts have upheld the principle that speech cannot be restricted simply because it is offensive or unpopular. However, there are exceptions to this rule, such as speech that incites violence or poses danger. The Supreme Court has also recognized that some types of speech, such as obscenity, defamation, and fighting words, are not protected by the First Amendment.

In recent years, there has been debate about whether social media companies should be responsible for policing harmful speech on their platforms. While some argue that these companies should be required to remove content that harms the community, others believe that this could lead to censorship and limit free expression.

Ultimately, the question of whether people should have the right to freedom of speech if it harms others is a complex and nuanced one. While the right to free speech is a cornerstone of democracy, it is not an absolute right. In cases where speech causes harm,
there may be a need to balance the right to free expression with the need to protect the safety and well-being of individuals and communities. I believe it is up to society as a whole to determine where that line should be drawn.




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