Howard Dean: No “Hate Speech” Protections in Constitution

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To their credit, several prominent Democrats have come out to support Ann Coulter’s right to speak at UC Berkeley without fear of rioting. Perhaps there are still a handful of liberals who believe in the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, even if they are rapidly dwindling in number.

But one Democrat, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, is not among them. In a tweet this week, Dean said, “Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.”

When an editorial in the Washington Post took exception to Dean’s tweet, he responded, “For WAPO and others raising issues about hate speech not being constitutionally protected, read ‘Chaplinsky v New Hampshire SCOTUS 1942.'”

In an interview on MSNBC, Dean elaborated.

“First of all, okay, several things to think about,” he said. “One, the United States has the most far-reaching protections on speech of any country in the world. Two, it’s not absolute. Three, there are three Supreme Court cases that you need to know about.

“One, the most recent, is a John Roberts opinion that said the Phelps people – that church out in Kansas – had the right to picket with horrible, offensive signs at military funerals,” Dean continued. “Two, in 2002, the Supreme Court said cross burning was illegal because it could incite violence. And three, the Chaplinsky case in 1942 said that speech was not permitted if it included fighting words that were likely to incite violence.”

Dean said that Coulter’s writings and public remarks could easily be read as promoting violence.

“The right loves to be able to say anything they like, no matter how offensive it is,” he said. “Well, Ann Coulter has used words that you cannot use on television to describe Jews, blacks, gays, Muslims, immigrants and Hispanics. I think there’s a case to be made that that invokes the Chaplinsky decision, which is ‘fighting words,’ likely to incite violence. And I think Berkeley is within its rights to make the decision that it puts their campus in danger if they have her there. I’ll be the first to admit it’s a close call.”

No, it really isn’t. Coulter has never encouraged her supporters to become violence. She has never put out a “call to action” that would put minorities in any danger. Is it possible that some lunatic could be inspired to violence by Coulter’s rhetoric? Absolutely. The same could be said for any speaker who has ever said anything about any topic. The speaker cannot be held responsible for the actions of the listener.

To think otherwise is not just to put limits on free speech; it is to nullify the entire CONCEPT of free speech. If hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment, then we may as well have no First Amendment.

All of this is blatantly irrelevant, of course, because UC Berkeley isn’t worried about Coulter’s supporters attacking minorities in her name. The violence isn’t coming from conservatives; it’s coming from left-wing radicals who want to suppress opposing viewpoints. In their twisted ideology, the speech itself IS violence, thus giving them license to respond in kind.

Liberals like Dean need to realize that you can’t make ideas go away by making them illegal. And you certainly can’t make them go away by attacking those who express them. All you can do is push them underground, where they grow more radicalized in the darkness. If Coulter’s ideas are hateful, expose them to the light. Debate them. Show her supporters why she is wrong. If you can’t “win” the argument…if you can’t persuade people to choose your viewpoints over her’s…then maybe – just maybe – you’re the one who is wrong.

But of course, that’s exactly what people like Dean are afraid of.