The First Amendment to U.S. Constitution states that “Congress shall not no laws … abridging the freedom of speech”. The amendment was designed to protect freedom of speech; however, as the Supreme Court has demonstrated, freedom of speech is not absolute. Over and over, the Court has ensured limitation on free speech especially when it incites riots, threatens or conspires against government interest. Moreover, the Court has recognized that speech is not absolute when it has a “tendency to produce illegal activities. While this has been the case, the Court has failed to limit discriminatory speech or actions directed at minorities.
Discriminatory ideas, based on race, ethnicity or religion had always been part of American societies. Even though there has been legislation, social movement, and organization against discrimination. Those who believe in the absolutism the freedom of speech have used to the First Amendment to cloak their ideas and target members in society. I find that such interpretation of the First Amendment to be lacking especially given the social reality of uneven power distribution between majority and minority.
The Court’s failure to limit discriminatory speech and acts legitimizes the status of subordinate groups. When white supremacist group, hold up symbols such as the Nazi Swastikas or burn a cross, it viewed as an act of expression. When in fact, these symbols have stood and still stand for ideologies that not only target minority groups but also undermines their humanity. For example, in A.R.V. v. St Paul (1992), the Supreme Court held that the cross burned by a white teenager in front of the African American family home was protected speech.
Given the reality of our society, I think that the Court needs to reconsider its stands on speech especially when it pertains to subordinate groups in our society. I am for free speech, but when it goes as far as to attack minority members of our society on bases of their race or religion, then I think that the protection should cease. While calling Muslims terrorist or holding up the Nazi symbol is “an expression of oneself”, it terrorizes the conscious of those they are addressed too. Moreover, I think that words and ideas always motivate action