The Charlottesville Riot: An American Tragedy In the Name of Free Speech

Photo Credit: Steve Helber- AP Photo

Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe, declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville this morning when a riot broke out at a White supremacist rally. The “Unite the Right” rally was planned after the city announced its decision to remove statues of famous Confederate soldiers. Three people are dead. Nineteen people are in the hospital. You can find a full report of the days events here, here, here, and here.

Everything about this–the riot, the deaths, the injuries, and the sadness that we all feel as a result–is awful. It’s just awful.

I don’t know how to fully articulate what I feel because it is still so raw.

Photo Credit: Steve Helber – AP Photo

The First Amendment Protects Hate Speech

Most Americans are appalled by the idea of a White supremacist rally in 2017. We don’t want to hear what the KKK has to say. We don’t want to be subjected to the KKK’s message. And a lot of people don’t understand why the government allows these groups to have a platform for sharing their message.

The truth is, though, that there is no exception to the First Amendment for hate speech. It simply doesn’t exist.

The Supreme Court of the United States consistently strikes down statutes that try to regulate speech by its content. In Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Court struck down an Ohio statute that criminalized the advocacy and teaching of particular ideas because the State failed to distinguish between speech that incites violence and speech that just shares ideas. A KKK leader walked free as a result of Brandenburg.

Our founding fathers knew that protecting the free exchange of ideas necessarily means protecting the sharing of all ideas. If we allow the government to decide what ideas are worth sharing, it won’t be long before freedom of speech is a footnote in a 6th-grade history book.

Ryan M. Kelly / The Daily Progress via AP

Don’t use Charlottesville as an excuse to curb First Amendment rights

With all eyes turned to Charlottesville, a new conversation about race, and history, in America is beginning. Let us move forward with love. Let us move forward with hope.

Please, please, please do not use this tragedy as a justification for restricting First Amendment rights. Unite the Right’s message is deplorable. It’s hateful and will never represent mainstream society. But it shouldn’t be censored because not every idea we hate is actually bad.

People hated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message when he first started speaking.

If we don’t allow the free exchange of all ideas, hateful or loving, we lose the opportunity to grow. And I, for one, have a lot of growing left to do.

**The Gotham City Esq. Family sends our heartfelt condolences and thoughts to the families of those who were killed today and to those who are injured.**


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