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Extremism and the 1st Amendment

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Wes Bausmith  Los Angeles Times/MCT 2010

Wes Bausmith Los Angeles Times/MCT 2010

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Wes Bausmith Los Angeles Times/MCT 2010

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In my previous column, I discussed a significant issue, free speech in jeopardy. While the article did an excellent job of explaining the problem and explaining what NOT to do, I didn’t get into any solutions to the problem. Today, let’s investigate that.

First of all, we need to determine a definition of hate speech, and more broadly extremism. Hate speech has a pretty clear meaning. While you are allowed to say bad things about another minority, or any group really, those words cannot be threatening.

I can say “I hate women” (I don’t, women, we need you in this world… badly…) and although that’s being a d***, I can say it. However, what I can’t say is “I’m going to kill all women.” This statement could be taken as a direct threat, and even if I am not serious, it is still illegal to say such things.

It’s important to remember that there are some things the first amendment doesn’t protect, but they all make sense. These include threats, intellectual property, public employee speech, defamation, speech that incites violence, and in rare cases, basic hate speech. All of these make sense, and I personally, as well as most American’s, have no problem with them.

Additionally, they are all ok because giving the government the ability to restrict these types of speech doesn’t give them overbearing amounts of power to limit other kinds of speech. These restrictions are particularly specific, so they don’t risk interfering with different types of expression.

Notice that hate speech is NOT protected under the first amendment. While it may seem contrary to this article that I support that, it’s important to note that the provisions that define hate speech are very specific, and thus most hate speech falls through the net.

As bad as this sounds, THIS IS A GOOD THING. From my previous article, I explain why we can’t restrict expression. But now, I’m going to attempt to explain how we can solve extremism (which is substantially triggered by hate speech).

Extremism in the US is on the rise, and it needs to stop.

Now, the solution isn’t perfect. And it’s not going to be easy. But it’s a significantly better solution than messing with the 1st Amendment.

First, we need to increase education. An educated citizen knows how to protest without being violent or “extreme.” An educated citizen knows that they can make a difference without inciting chaos. Most importantly, an educated citizen can make choices independent of ‘mob rule.’

“Great. All we have to do is increase education. Sam, that’s never going to work. How are you going to convince people to learn? No one that doesn’t want to is going sit through you’re stupid ‘How To Be Not-Extreme’ classes.”

That’s true. They won’t, and that’s not how it should be done. We need to utilize existing pipelines for informing citizens, and that, of course, means through the media. The challenge is not in convincing the people; it is in convincing the press that THEY are playing a vital role to cause extremism and that they can stop it. Want to know how? Make sure to read my next column.

For this and more great articles by columnist Sam Catania, visit his blog, The Lonely Politico.

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Extremism and the 1st Amendment