Two Chinese tourists were arrested last Sunday after taking photos of each other giving the Nazi salute in front of the Reichstag building in Berlin. Unlike in the United States, certain types of speech are illegal in Germany, including almost any Nazi symbolism.
Supposed comedian Chelsea Handler, weighed in on the story, suggesting the U.S. be more like Germany, which would require eliminating the First Amendment.
Most people in a civilized society agree that Nazi salutes are offensive, even if given in jest. Labeling speech that we all agree to be wrong as "hate speech" and then banning it by law might seem like a simple solution to the problem of occasionally hearing things that decent people don't like. However, passing laws to weaken our own rights in response to somebody else's poor behavior is not the solution.
If we want to be aware of what can transpire on the fringe of society, everyone should be free to express all of their opinions, even the ones that offend us. The Constitution treats us as grown-ups, depending on us to have the sense to reject opinions that are genuinely evil.
Take the Westboro Baptist Church for example, a group consisting mostly of family members. They scream obscenities and anti-gay slurs as they picket events such as papal visits and the funerals of service members killed overseas. They offend virtually everyone on earth. America, with its population of over 300 million people, seems to have collectively ostracized the 70-member group despite our government never making it a law to do so. No one is terribly worried that their annoying behavior is causing a trend.
Making any type of speech illegal would in itself destroy the First Amendment, which contrary to the claims of some washed up politicians, contains no exception for hate speech. Nor should it. The definition of hate speech is subject to continuous change. There are words no decent person will say, but the banning of even one word would eliminate the right to freedom of speech, replacing it with a subjective list of prohibited terms to which the government could and would add to over time.
It is strange that those who depend on free speech to make their living are often its most vocal opponents. Handler, for example, wants to ban offensive speech, but she engages in it quite often, as when she made fun of the first lady's accent, claiming Melania Trump barely speaks English. It's her right to tell that joke, of course. But it might not be if she had her own way.
Today's "safe space" culture has created the concept that words — not threats, mind you, just unkind words — are equivalent to physical harm. It just isn't so. And the First Amendment is a treasure, even if it does subject us all to Kathy Griffin posing in ISIS-inspired photoshoots, Johnny Depp expressing his envy of John Wilkes Booth, and Snoop Dogg shooting a clown dressed as Trump in a music video. As always, the proper answer to offensive speech is more speech, not violence or government coercion.
At a moment when leftists can't seem to get enough of speaking out against the current administration, their sudden turn against the First Amendment is a puzzling and troubling development. Their short-sighted talk of giving our government unacceptable authority to regulate our personal lives should be rejected like all the other bad ideas that people are free to express.
Alana Mastrangelo is a political activist and writer.
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