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The Word Police: What You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You

Think sweeping hate speech legislation isn't dangerous? Think again.

(Photo: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

Languages are incredible things.

For example, there are 50 ways to describe “snow” in Eskimo. The presence or absence of one tiny accent on a word in Spanish (“carne” versus “carné”) can mean the difference between “meat” and “identification card.”

Even our own English tongue is regarded by some non-native speakers to be one of the most difficult languages to grasp, thanks in part to doozies like this: “The man decided to desert his dessert in the desert.” Suffice to say, there are plenty of ways to choose the wrong phrase in any language.

I attend a Portuguese class at work each week, and recently we discussed the care one must take when shifting between languages while describing someone’s ethnicity. The prominent example was how in Portuguese it is proper to refer to a “black” person as “negro.” Were someone to use that word (or any of its variations) in English, they would be thoroughly excoriated.

 (Photo: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images) (Photo: LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

At one point a student expressed a concern with how difficult it was to avoid faux pas and offenses in a different language, and someone else responded in frustration that it’s almost easier just not to say anything at all.

Taking care when choosing the correct word in a different language is one thing (“negro,” for the record, is the word for the color “black” in Portuguese), but what happens when your political or religious views prevent you from speaking, for fear of retribution? What happens when having a different point of view suddenly becomes considered “hateful?”

Meet the Hate Crime Reporting Act of 2014 (S.2219).

This bill—sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey, (D-Mass.), and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, (D-N.Y.)—would give the federal government purview into “examining the role of the Internet and other telecommunications in encouraging hate crimes based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation and create recommendations to address such crimes.”

Addressing hate crimes? Sounds positive, right? However, the problem with this bill isn’t the concept of ending hate crimes; it is the broad brush with which it paints government authority over speech in this country. Indeed, Sen. Markey’s website declares this bill will prevent hate crimes and … hate speech.

Pastor Greg Wilson, left, and Ian Goldberg discuss their differences in beliefs during the unveiling of an Atheist monument outside the Bradford County Courthouse on Saturday, June 29, 2013 in Stark, Fla.  The New Jersey-based group American Atheists unveiled the 1,500-bound granite bench Saturday as a counter to the religious monument in what's called a free speech zone. Group leaders say they believe it's the first such atheist monument on government property. About 200 people attended the event. Credit: AP Pastor Greg Wilson, left, and Ian Goldberg discuss their differences in beliefs during the unveiling of an Atheist monument outside the Bradford County Courthouse on Saturday, June 29, 2013 in Stark, Fla. The New Jersey-based group American Atheists unveiled the 1,500-bound granite bench Saturday as a counter to the religious monument in what's called a free speech zone. Group leaders say they believe it's the first such atheist monument on government property. About 200 people attended the event. Credit: AP

Ending hateful speech—much like ending hate crimes—sounds wonderful. Except the bill doesn’t specify just what can be admissible as “hateful.”

I live in a state that saw a raucous battle over the definition of marriage during this past election cycle.

Per my faith, I happen to believe that the institution of marriage can’t and shouldn’t be redefined. I am considered bigoted for that view by many in my state, and in this country. I wrote about it on several occasions, and, since this issue has been housed under the umbrella of civil rights (note: the United States Commission on Civil Rights plays a significant role in S.2219) couldn’t my written opposition to the redefinition of marriage technically be deemed “hate speech” by such an open-ended law?

What about global warming? If the government is given free reign over deciding what is and isn’t “hate speech,” then couldn’t the same concern exist for scientific views with which the government disagrees? Take Oregon professor Kari Norgaard, for example, who compares global warming skeptics to “racists” and that these individuals "must be recognized and treated" as having an “aberrant sociological behavior.”

In a similar vein, what about creationism? There are some, like Arizona State University Professor Lawrence Krauss, who have been outspoken about their belief that it is child abuse to teach a child that God created the earth in under a week.

An editorial in The Boston Herald makes a salient point when it notes that despite S.2219's assurance that the monitoring will be “consistent with the First Amendment,” the writer proceeds— “prosecutors already have the authority to prosecute threats” (emphasis mine).

In this March 22, 2010 file photo, signs promoting equality hang in a storefront in Patchogue, N.Y., the town where Ecuadorean migrant worker Marcelo Lucero was killed two years earlier in a hate crime stabbing. Migrants and activists on Long Island say response to the killing of Lucero has led to an atmosphere of greater tolerance toward Hispanic immigrants. They say the reaction has made it easier for them to go to local authorities when they have been victims of crime. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File) In this March 22, 2010 file photo, signs promoting equality hang in a storefront in Patchogue, N.Y., the town where Ecuadorean migrant worker Marcelo Lucero was killed two years earlier in a hate crime stabbing. Migrants and activists on Long Island say response to the killing of Lucero has led to an atmosphere of greater tolerance toward Hispanic immigrants. They say the reaction has made it easier for them to go to local authorities when they have been victims of crime. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

So, if the federal government already has the authority to deal with hate crimes, just what is the point with such a piece of legislation?

Would the government really use its power to weed out and silence the “wrong” view?

Consider the time that the IRS used its authority to intimidate and inhibit opposition views by directly targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.

Consider the time that the administration itself, during the reelection campaign, called upon supporters to “report” on their fellow Americans via a site called AttackWatch.com. Therein, the “reporter” could explain the nature of disinformation being spread by the person in question. RedState’s John Hayward sums up this behavior neatly: “Statism is inherently paranoid. Dissenters are the enemies of progress.”

Still not convinced of the dangers of such a law?

Consider our close ally, Great Britain. British politician Paul Weston was recently arrested because a campaign speech he gave contained quotes from Winston Churchill on the reality of radical Islam. Specifically, he was “arrested on suspicion of religious or racial harassment.” (You can read the “hateful” Churchill quote here. )

(Photo: Shutterstock.com) (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

The truth is, if there’s little definition around what constitutes “hate speech” in S.2219, what’s to stop this administration’s Justice Department from arbitrarily declaring virtually anything to be “hateful” or destructive, for the same purposes?

In other news, the upper house of Russian parliament approved a law on Tuesday that deeply stifles Russian bloggers, many of whom espouse opposition views because the state-run media will not. Lacking only Vladamir Putin’s signature (a given at this point), this law “will require popular bloggers to register by name with Russia's communications oversight agency and conform to regulations on the mass media.”

Here, we don’t have state-run media (yet), but we have a federal government that recently planned on (until they got caught) using the FCC to monitor news outlets to influence "the process by which stories are selected," "critical information needs," "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations." In other words, filter news stories based on the government’s preferences.

Let’s return to the proposed Hate Crime Reporting Act of 2014 (S.2219).

Do we really want to gift-wrap the authority—via this or any similar legislation—to arbitrarily determine what is, and isn’t “hate speech,” and hand it over to a government that has been more than willing to use its power to silence opposition these past years? Do we really want to emulate Russia?

By all means, work personally in your community to make sure that true “hate speech” isn’t disseminated. Settle differences with ideals, and not with vitriol … and certainly not with sweeping legislation.

But more importantly, protect free speech—even when you don’t like it—for the very same power that can silence that which you don’t like, can just as easily silence you.

Mary Ramirez is a full time writer, and creator of www.afuturefree.com--a political commentary blog. She can be reached at: afuturefree@aol.com; or on Twitter: @AFutureFree

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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