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Few issues are as controversial as the right to free speech, especially when it’s pitted against people’s desire not to feel attacked or hated simply because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation.
Over the past 20 or 30 years, speech codes have proliferated in the workplace and at colleges and universities. By a narrow margin, says Gallup, today’s college students say promoting an inclusive campus environment is more important than protecting First Amendment rights of free speech. Yet large majorities also say they want a campus in which all speech is allowed and that their own campus stifles free expression.
Nadine Strossen, who served as the president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) from 1991 to 2008, is the author of the new book Hate: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship, which lays out a compelling argument against policies that try to restrict what individuals are allowed to say. Attempts to legally prevent and criminalize hate speech, Strossen writes, typically end up being used against the very people and groups they are intended to protect. What’s more, she says, the alleged harms caused by ugly speech are routinely overstated.
Strossen is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and in 1978 the organization she would go on to lead famously defended the rights of neo-Nazis to march through Skokie, a Chicago suburb with a large Jewish population. Many residents of Skokie were survivors of German death camps; they argued that the psychic pain of a Nazi rally would be brutally upsetting and could lead to violence. As the ACLU’s brief in that case noted, the arguments for stopping the march were the exact same ones made 10 years earlier by the residents of Cicero, Illinois, who sued to stop Martin Luther King from leading a civil rights demonstration in their town.
Strossen, a professor at New York Law School in Manhattan, sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to talk about her new book, why hyperpolarization in American politics makes free expression more difficult, and the best ways to counter bad, stupid, and hate-filled speech.
Edited by Ian Keyser. Intro by Austin Bragg. Cameras by Austin Bragg and Meredith Bragg.
“Clean Soul” by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Nadine Strossen: Joanne Savio / KRT / Newscom