Free speech must protect all language

Ryan Taylor, Opinion Writer

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Ryan Taylor

On March 21 vlogger Mark Meechan, otherwise known by his YouTube alias, Count Dankula, was found guilty of a hate crime for a “grossly offensive” prank that he posted. He had taught his girlfriend’s pug to raise his paw in a way that mimicked a Nazi salute and posted a video of it to his YouTube account.

Meechan has said the purpose of the video was to annoy his girlfriend, and that it was nothing more than a joke. According to him, in the eyes of the court, his original intent no longer mattered.

“It’s really scary for comedians,” Meechan said. “If they make a joke, their context and intent apparently don’t matter and it’s a case of, ‘No, you don’t get to decide what you mean. We get to decide what you mean.’”

This is precisely why freedom of speech is essential and why all speech needs to be protected. Meechan made a joke about Nazis, the most he is guilty for is making a joke, funny or not.

It should never be illegal to express yourself, whether in the form of an opinion or joke. Because if the government is given the authority to determine what speech is punishable, then the government has the authority to make that decision whenever it benefits them.

That being said, acts of speech that incite or promote violence shouldn’t be allowed, and this is a hard line to define in regards to issues like hate speech.

WRST station manager Nick Bode said all speech should be protected, except when it instigates violence.
“It’s a delicate subject, because I think hate speech can foster violence,” Bode said. “However, I certainly don’t think someone has a duty to publish hate speech.”

Sadly, hateful organizations like the KKK exist, and they take advantage of the freedoms that are afforded to the citizens of this country, but as Bode said, while that right is given to them, they by no means need to be given a platform to preach from.

“We actually got a call from the Ku Klux Klan a few years ago, and they wanted to run advertisements for a white supremacist group on our station, and we refused them,” Bode said. “And they complained we were being discriminatory, which was hilarious because it’s the Ku Klux Klan complaining they were being discriminated against.”

This is something that organizations have the ability to govern for themselves. When the power to silence speech is handed over to the government, society is put in a very dangerous situation.

News agencies could become subject to censorship, YouTube videos could be deemed offensive enough to result in jail time, like what happened in the U.K., and the country would slowly move towards a totalitarian state.

If that’s not enough of a reason just imagine if Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton had the power to determine what you could say, or what news could be published. This isn’t a partisan issue, it’s a matter of human rights.

However, government censorship isn’t the only issue facing free speech. Lately people have been attempting to shut down speech that they don’t agree with, not because it’s hate speech, but because the ideas don’t fall in line with their own.
Some public academic institutions have canceled speaking events due to the speakers political affiliation, or they raise the fees to astronomical levels so that student organizations are unable to afford hosting events.

On top of this, media personalities are having their advertisers targeted with the end goal of trying to bankrupt them and force them out of the industry, most recently with Laura Ingraham. Which CNN’s Brian Stelter commented on, and in doing so provided an excellent alternative to this practice.

“I think it’s dangerous to see these ad boycott attempts happening more and more often in this country,” Stelter said. “My view is let’s not shut down anyone’s right to speak. Let’s meet their comments with more speech. Let’s try to respond that way.”

Meet speech with speech, a weak argument won’t hold up to scrutiny. Even the most racist people can be shown how misguided their views are. Just look up the story of Daryl Davis, a black man who befriended over 200 members of the KKK to convince them to give up their robes.

Speech is a powerful tool. It allows for the exchange of information, new ideas and different viewpoints. Which is why government censorship, echo chambers and the unwillingness to face uncomfortable truths, is detrimental to the growth of society.