Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hate Speech Ain't Free

Not long ago, a pair of trash-talking local radio hosts was first suspended, then fired, for their twelve- minute rant against transgendered people, during which they ridiculed the bodies of transgendered individuals, called them “nut jobs” multiple times, insulted callers who protested, and mocked a local transgendered student for being a member of the girls' softball team at her high school. They closed their program with Aerosmith's “Dude Looks Like a Lady.”

Yuk-yuk. Although the station's owners were swift to pull them off the air and condemn their hate speech, the damage was done. Once again, people who were different from the mainstream were the butts of hate-filled ridicule in the guise of entertainment.

Of course, fans of the pair were quick to announce their rights to free speech had been violated, which makes them either ignorant or just plain stupid.

This reminded me of the many people who think the right to free speech means they (or their favorite shock jocks) can say anything they want, anywhere they want, and that the radio station violated their rights by firing them.

That's not true at all, and if you think about it for more than a moment, you'll be glad it's not. Do you want to take your family out to a fine restaurant for a special occasion only to have to talk over a loud political rant or someone preaching about how to save your soul? Probably not.

Free speech grants US citizens the right to be free from government interference when they speak in public places. This does not include words which are obscene by community standards, incite others to riot, provoke acts of violence, threaten someone, commit fraud or perjury, violate copyright or trade secrets, or slander or libel others, among other exceptions.

Free speech does not cover speech on private property. That fine restaurant, your living room, the parking lot and premises of stores and malls, electronic “places” like websites, and the TV and radio airwaves which are open to the public are not public places.

Employers, of course, are not obligated to continue to employ people whose ugly opinions discredit the employer. If the radio personalities want to stand on the street corner and give voice to their opinions, they're free to do that, but their firing most certainly has not violated their rights. The government has not interfered with their speech in any way.

To me, this case is especially sad. Transgendered people find themselves in a situation very like that of gay people twenty or thirty years ago, who themselves were in a position previously occupied by minorities, who were in the position of women... Once we all know people who are trans—or gay, or black, or disabled, or Jewish, or Muslim, or any other group we hate and fear—we realize very quickly they're just people, and like all of us, have good and bad traits.

I applaud the station for removing the purveyors of hate speech.

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