June 23, 2017
A Northwestern University professor argued Wednesday that “hate speech” should be a form of expression that is subject to legal limitation.
In an op-ed for The Los Angeles Times, sociology professor Laura Beth Nielsen contends that “members of traditionally marginalized groups suffer” when Americans are granted the freedom “to be hateful.”
“Perhaps it’s nonsense to characterize the nature of the harm as nothing more than an emotional scratch,” Nielsen postulates. “That’s a reflection of the deep inequalities in our society, and one that demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of how hate speech affects its targets.”
The professor maintains that free speech is already a limited right, mentioning numerous restrictions on panhandling, protesting veteran’s funerals, advertising, inciting lawless action, and more.
“So soldiers’ families, shoppers, and workers are protected from troubling speech,” she deduces. “People of color, women walking down public streets or just living in their dorm on a college campus are not.”
To support her argument, Nielsen cites “empirical data” suggesting that “frequent verbal harassment can lead to various negative consequences.” According to the professor, the negative consequences of “racist hate speech” include high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Instead of characterizing racist and sexist hate speech as ‘just speech,’ courts and legislatures need to account for this research and, perhaps, allow the restriction of hate speech as do all of the other economically advanced democracies in the world,” she argues.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
While Nielsen briefly considers basic objections that could be raised by “free-speech absolutists,” she reiterated her view that freedom of speech is already “far from…