One of the problems of “hate speech” laws is that they make being impolite or obnoxious a federal crime.

On the other hand, there is a mild difference between a drunk using the “n” word or using a vulgar name for a minority group, something which needs to be met with the demands for an apology, and the deliberate bullying of someone who belongs to a minority group.

Freedom of speech is about not being put into jail for saying something like “purple people rule the world”. Heck you can demonstrate all the time in public places or write to the editor or put it on your blog.

But if you yell loudly at people going into a church that they are going to hell (something that happens sometimes to those attending Catholic or LDS worship), and the loud noise disrupts the service, those being harassed need to be able to protect themselves. A law limiting noise would be an example, or a law stopping demonstrations within so many feet of a private institution.
But harassing a private citizen is something more serious.

Hanging a noose on a tree outside a black family’s home or burning a cross in a public space is not only hate speech, but harassment: a direct threat against a specific person.

So why do constitutional scholars consider a self proclaimed church that harasses specific families at funerals by saying their loved on is in hell any different?
I think the problem is that “constitutional scholars” don’t see saying one’s loved one is in hell or deserves to be in hell as a threat. But if you believe in hell, such speech is worse than threatening death: It is threatening eternal damnation, a fate worse than bodily death.

So is there a constitutional “freedom to bully” private people?

The law says no for anti abortion protesters who harass women going into clinics, so why can’t the law also protect families of gays and soldiers at funerals?
The argument that “freedom of speech” allows bullying has been something I have run into before.

I’ve run into this problem before, when some gang members were bullying my son for not being “white”. They would surround him and call him names, but the principal said that he couldn’t interfere with their “freedom of speech”. But when a different group of five bullies did the same to his older brother, my older son took all of them on, and was suspended for “starting a fight”…Luckily as a doctor, I could afford to transfer my children to a different school. But since when is it “freedom of speech” to allow a bully to make a person’s life miserable?

If the law cannot protect a family at their most vulnerable time, we will see someone who will protect these families. Already many funerals are being protected by veterans groups.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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