Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler recently told reporters that “hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment” in his attempt to convince the federal government to stop alt-right gatherings and protests. Any self respecting constitutionalist, or frankly, anyone who is vaguely familiar with the Constitution, knows this statement is absolutely false. For example, look no further than the Washington Post and the ACLU, who have both condemned Wheeler’s statement.
The Washington Post published a scathing response titled “‘Hate Speech not Protected by the First Amendment’, Portland Mayor says. He’s Wrong” and ACLU Oregon released the following statement on Facebook.
“It may be tempting to shut down free speech we disagree with, but once we allow the government to decide what we can say, see, or hear, or who we can gather with, history shows us that the most marginalized will be disproportionately censored and punished for unpopular speech.”
As the WaPo article states, “history and precedent are not on Wheeler’s side.”
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that hate speech, no matter how bigoted or offensive, is free speech.
The high court did so in 1969, when it found that a state law banning public speech that advocates for illegal activities violated the constitutional rights of a Ku Klux Klan leader.
It did so again in 1992, when the justices found that a city ordinance prohibiting the display of symbols that arouse anger toward someone based on race, religion and other factors is unconstitutional.
And again in 2011, when the court ruled in favor of church members who picketed and carried signs with homophobic slurs at a soldier’s funeral.
The protections of the Constitution separates our democratic republic from similar revolutions across the world, such as the French Revolution that overthrew the monarch and handed the keys to a dictator. When we begin to curtail those protections based on arbitrary terms like “hate speech”, we might as well throw out the Constitution all together.
Non-offense speech doesn’t need protection. You don’t need Constitutional protection to say things everyone agrees with. Not only does the Constitution protect “hate speech”–whatever the heck that is–it only truly protects offensive speech. That’s the nature of Constitutional protection.
While you may not expect ACLU and WaPo to defend Trump supporters, this overreach by Mayor Wheeler has put him clearly in the wrong. Sometimes you have to be willing to side with the truth, rather than your political allies. It’s a necessary first step in addressing the horrible political polarization in our society, and it should apply to both sides of the aisle. If the left is willing to call out their own when they get it wrong, we need to stop losing our minds when conservatives do the same with President Trump.