One Man’s Freedom of Expression is Another Man’s Hate Crimeby Stephen Littau
We seem to have strayed a long way from our valuing of free speech, perhaps best stated by Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” In this age of political correctness, both the Right and the Left has bastardized the idea of free speech to a more politically correct attitude: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend your right to say it until someone else is offended.”
As I was driving in to work, I caught a couple of segments of The Mike Gallagher Show (a show I do not normally listen to). Gallagher brought up a case which happened at Pace University where a 23 year-old man by the name of Stanislav Shmulevich allegedly threw a Quran in a toilet on two separate occasions. The university originally reported the crime as an act of vandalism but later decided to report the act to the NYPD as a hate crime instead. I assumed that Gallagher would go on to criticize this as political correctness run amok but to my astonishment, he said that treating this act as a “hate crime” was completely appropriate. Gallagher went even further to say that certain acts such as desecrating a “holy book” (regardless of the faith), the American flag, or burning crosses should all be exempt from First Amendment protection. In his view, there are just some things which should be held sacred; those who commit “crimes” against what he or others consider “sacred” should be punished criminally.
Gallagher’s arguments got even weaker from there. Several callers challenged him on this notion and Gallagher would ask questions like (paraphrasing) “Should we consider it free speech when someone paints swastikas on a Jewish person’s home?” and “What about burning a cross in the lawn of an African American, is that free speech?” Perhaps his most absurd example was whether or not a person dressed in Nazi uniform goose stepping in a Jewish neighborhood should be protected by the First Amendment.
All of these questions can be easily answered if only we go back to the basic idea that each individual has the natural rights of life, liberty, and property (“your freedom ends where my nose begins”); nowhere in our Constitution is there a right to not be offended. Painting swastikas on a Jewish person’s home or burning a cross in an African American’s yard are both violations of these individuals’ right to property, and therefore, the perpetrator should be prosecuted on those grounds.
So, what about the racist bastard goose stepping in a Jewish neighborhood? Assuming the idiot does so on public property, s/he is protected by the First Amendment. Being an anti-Semitic moron, while infuriating to most sensible people, is not a crime nor should it be.
One could argue that these above acts would be acts of intimidation and could warrant criminal prosecution (certainly in the first two examples would be prosecutable without “hate crimes” laws, the last example would still be a bit of a stretch) but I fail to see how desecrating a book which some people deem as “holy” even rises to this standard. There’s no question that desecrating a holy book is offensive to a great majority of people, but a crime? Thomas Jefferson found fault with much of the Bible and therefore proceeded to physically cut and paste the portions of the Bible that he found to be authentic to create his own interpretation of the Bible and discarded the rest. References to the virgin birth, the resurrection, angels, and other miracles were all omitted from the Jefferson Bible. Clearly, if someone like Gallagher knew of someone doing something like this today, he would regard this person as a hate criminal.
The whole purpose of the First Amendment is to protect speech that can be and often is offensive to the sensibilities of a person, a group, or even a majority. Popular speech does not need to be protected nearly as much. I might not like it if someone chooses to burn an American flag, desecrate a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness, or wishes to write terrible things about me on a post I have written but unless such an individual does these things without threatening my life, liberty, or property, I have to put up with these things. It’s the price I pay for living in a free society and a price I am quite willing to pay.