Don’t protect hate speech

Don’t protect hate speech

By Ellen Ratner   
Counterprotesters-taunt-a-tiny-band-of-neonazis-in-front-of-the-White-House-August-12-2018, (Photo ©2018 Doug Chrirstian)
Counterprotesters-taunt-a-tiny-band-of-neonazis-in-front-of-the-White-House-August-12-2018, (Photo ©2018 Doug Chrirstian)

LOS ANGELES — As someone who grew up right after the Holocaust, I learned anti-Semitism was mainly something that took place in Europe. I am shocked when I see it here.

This week the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) building was spray-painted with anti-Semitic words. Maybe it is because the head of the American Federation of Teachers head was raised Jewish.

Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, said: “We will stare all bigotry in the face, whether it is anti-Jew, anti-Islam, anti-black, anti-brown, anti-native, anti-LGBTQ or any other hate directed at people because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Defacing our community with hateful rhetoric is meant to intimidate, otherize and sow fear, and to divide our community and make people feel unsafe and unwelcome where they live and work. But this type of hate crime does just the opposite: It mobilizes us to come together and unite around the common causes of tolerance and peace, and to continue fighting for a more inclusive, more just world.”

The AFT building was spray-painted in yellow paint (the color of the Jewish stars of people in countries run by Nazis were forced to wear) and included the words, “I want Jexit!”

“Jexit” is a takeoff of “Brexit,” the British term for Britain leaving the European Union. According to the research done by the staff of the AFT, the word “Jexit” is used on anti-Semitic hate sites.

I am frankly amazed at what I see in America these days. I can’t believe we have allowed our country to be taken over by such hate. It doesn’t matter if it is anti-Muslim, anti-Jew or anti-Trans; it is not what we grew up knowing. We would never have written about the differences. We were all Americans, and were taught about America being a “melting pot.”

President Trump could make a difference by giving a speech and saying something that could make Americans whole again, and try to end discrimination.

Right after the 2016 elections, the AFT issued this statement: “Swastikas scrawled across dormitory walls. Bullies pulling off a Muslim student’s hijab. Latino students singled out with chants about building a wall. Racist messages to black students about daily lynchings, and fliers with messages like ‘Why white women shouldn’t date black men.’ Women taunted about sexual assault.”

Hateful acts are on the rise. Said one news report: “The Southern Poverty Law Center has recorded 437 since the election, and many are taking place on college campuses. As the largest union representative of public college and university faculty, the AFT is spearheading a group of activist organizations sending a letter to Donald Trump demanding he strongly rejects actions that are hurtful to targeted groups.”

We need leadership on this issue. We need to have the kind of America which I grew up in, where hate speech is not acceptable. Although we have free speech in this country, even the Supreme Court said you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater (known in 1919 as Schenck v. United States).

Also according to the Supreme Court, you can’t burn crosses on someone’s lawn. In a 5-4 decision, Justice O’ Conner wrote: “The protections afforded by the First Amendment … are not absolute.” There was a recent case known as the “Slants” case (but was actually Matal vs. Tam) in which the U.S. government refused to register a band known as the Slants for a trademark. In a 4-4 decision (as the ninth justice was not on the court then), Justice Kennedy issued this opinion: “A law found to discriminate based on viewpoint is an ‘egregious form of content discrimination’ which is ‘presumptively unconstitutional.’ … A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society.”

Hate speech should not be protected, and President Trump should come out against it. It is, frankly, un-American and not the country most of us grew up in. Spray-painting the AFT building in Washington D.C. with hate speech is not the America most of us know. We need to figure out what allows people to do those kinds of things – and to stop them before they start.

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