Demi's Diems: Preaching Hate — How far does the First Amendment go?

Demi Lawrence is a freshman telecommunications journalism major and writes "Demi's Diems" for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily agree with those of the newspaper. Write to Demi at

Demi Lawrence

“Well it’s my right to ____!” is something we hear often these days, whether it be your right to talk down on the government, or to cuss out a salesclerk at your local Bed, Bath and Beyond because they didn’t have the brand of forks you wanted and somehow that’s that poor lady’s fault. 

And you’re right, you have the right and protection of free speech, via the First Amendment to the American Constitution. You also have the right to peacefully protest, the right to petition and the freedom of a secular country. But where does hate speech fall into that?

Technically, hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. Yes, hate speech is awful, disgusting and in some cases inhumane, but it's protected. All the credit to my TCOM 101 professor for this quote, but I hate violation of rights more than I hate hate speech.

A few months ago, radical neo-Nazi white supremacists wreaked havoc on Charlottesville, North Carolina. Police officers surrounded these men and women as they spewed abhorrent words such as, “You will not replace us” and, “White lives matter.” And as I sat on my phone, scrolling new stories that made my blood boil, of course I thought that those people needed to be arrested. It’s natural to get this detestable speech off the streets, right? But as I thought deeper, scrolled a little more, battled between my emotions and my wit, I realized this: There is a fine line between free speech and outright violence. And hate speech, very sadly, is on the free speech side.

Now when I say “free speech,” this coincides with peaceful protesting. Peaceful, free speech is protected by the First Amendment. A white supremacist ramming his car into an innocent counter protester, killing her, is not peaceful. That is intentional violence, and that is what’s not protected by the First Amendment. That goes for both sides. Counter protesters can scream and stand against hate, but as soon as the first punch is thrown, that’s when the line is crossed.

I’d like to punch a homophobic, racist white nationalist as much as the next person with half a brain, but that’d make me just as bad as the perpetrator.

Over a year ago, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his infamous protest against police brutality and blatant racism by sitting during the national anthem. What followed was a whirlwind of many other players joining him, reasonings behind these kneelings becoming twisted and many Americans howling, “Fire them!” President Donald Trump called these protesters “SOB’s” and demanded they be fired, via Twitter of course. But what these folks don’t realize is that the same Amendment protecting neo-Nazis' rights to say “F*** blacks” is the same Amendment that allows these NFL players to kneel for the national anthem before a football game.

Some people are quick to say, “To hell with the First Amendment” after big events like Charlottesville and #TakeAKnee, but stop and think about this: Where would we be without this Amendment? Woodward and Bernstein may have never broken Watergate, though that example falls more under the freedom of the press section of the First Amendment. Citizens would possibly be rounded up, tortured and executed for publicly badmouthing government officials.

We would, in essence, lose the freedom that makes this country so great. And yes, I just complimented the United States. I am very displeased with where we are as a country right now, but I love this place enough to try to make a difference. Not every country can say they have total freedom to say what they want (without the incitement of violence, of course), freedom to practice whatever religion they want or don’t want and the freedom to assemble and protest peacefully. And for that I am grateful.

When the protesters rallied up at the Scramble Light last week, carrying signs that basically said if you drink 2% milk and not skim milk you’d rot in hell for eternity, I went. I exercised my First Amendment right of free, peaceful speech by laughing at him and running around him with a little handheld rainbow flag. Because why not? And as much as my skin crawled with every word that came out of that sick and terrible man’s mouth, I knew he was protected just as I was. I wanted him to leave, don’t get me wrong. I wanted him to creep back into whatever dark hole that was teaching him to hate everyone that he came from. But, very much generalizing, we were doing the same thing: exercising our First Amendment right to say what we want within the limits of nonviolence.

Our rights as Americans are unalienable. That’s basically the defining factor for this country: freedom. I’d rather a neo-Nazi make a fool of himself, an NFL player be ridiculed and a radical Christian protester use their rights than have me not be able to say, “I don’t like what Donald Trump is doing in the White House” without deep punishment. So where do you draw the line?


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