Free Speech vs. Hate Speech


I promised a friend I would talk about this subject when I had the chance. I just want to say now, when I care about something, someone, or have a deep-rooted belief in something, I speak out proudly, passionately and as intelligently as I can. I want to remind people of this; just because a person is passionate about something does not mean they speak only with their emotions. That being said let’s get to the matter at hand.

I talk to many parents who have children with disabilities. They are on my Facebook and my Twitter. I hope that through me they realize that their children may have the potential for productive adult lives. As such, I often receive messages, good and bad, about groups, fan pages, and interesting individuals pertaining to the disability community. None have shocked me quite like a post on a mother’s Facebook wall about a group on FB called KEEP DOWN SYNDROME SUFFERERS OUT OF SOCIETY.

The title alone was appalling to me, but I figured it was just a group of ignorant kids fooling around on Facebook. Going to the group was even more insulting. The group description included tips on how those with Down Syndrome should either be locked away or murdered at birth. The group had many people joining to tell the founders and group supporters how sick they were (fruitless, I believe), but there were also many, disgusting posts. Some of them discussed hitting children with Down Syndrome in the face to try to get the “Retard Look” to go away. One was a picture of a mauled, aborted child, with the caption, “This should be all people with Down Syndrome.”

Upon further inspection, I was surprised to learn that not only were teenagers partaking in such vile behavior (parental supervision, anyone?), but 20 and 30-somethings were joining in the hullabaloo, too. Luckily, Facebook has an option that lets members of the site report groups that revolve around hate speech, or disparage a group or individual. Pictures, discussion posts, and wall posts can be reported, too. After making my rounds reporting the group and certain, offensive posts and pictures, I wrote this message on my FB profile:

Facebook Message, Dominick Evans, March 1, 2010

Mind you, I had been thinking about writing a post like this for a while.

As you can see, I didn’t explain anything about the group or ask anyone else to report the group. I did go on Twitter and urge my friends there to report the group and some of them did. After a friend responded to my FB post, I explained why I was upset, as it pertains to disabilities. This was my reply:

Well, it has been something I’ve been thinking about saying on FB for a while. I think people with disabilities are often looked past, looked over, spoken over, deemed unfit, etc.

What those people doing this don’t realize is ALS could strike them tomorrow, MS could put them in a wheelchair, they could get in an accident at any time. Then, everyone will start doing what they did to others – ignore them, look past them, underestimate them, etc.

Honestly, the final breaking point for me was the creation of a group telling people on FB to exclude people with Down Syndrome from society. The group said to either lock them up or just kill ‘these morons’ at birth. This ignorance, that it even exists, is beyond disappointing. It’s disgusting. I’ve reported the group to FB, and so have many others. Let’s just hope FB doesn’t pull the free speech crap we often hear….

There is freedom of speech and their is hate speech. Hate speech should never be tolerated.

This turned my post about disabilities into a massive debate about free speech, and the right of the group to say what they want. My entire message of, “you reap what you sow,” and “treat others as you wish them to treat you,” was completely lost in this debate. For this blog post, that is neither here nor there. It’s merely something worth noting. What is important, is understanding why I feel there is a difference between Free Speech and Hate Speech.

Yourdictionary.com describes the legal definition of Hate Speech as:

Speech not protected by the First Amendment, because it is intended to foster hatred against individuals or groups based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, place of national origin, or other improper classification.

Similarly, Dictionary.com defines Hate Speech as:

–noun
speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

In the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, we are guaranteed the right to Free Speech. We are also guaranteed access as Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

With these definitions in mind, I feel that the aformentioned group was not created to exercise the right to free speech. If the legal definition of Hate Speech holds true, their speech is not protected by the Bill of Rights because it is not Free Speech. It is disparaging, degrading, and hateful to human beings who deserve the same rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution regardless of ability or lack thereof.

Additionally, their proposed solution for getting rid of the Down Syndrome population is to kill them all so they can no longer pass on their defective genes or go back to something outlawed against racial minorities nearly 60 years ago – separation, isolation, segregation. This goes against human beings’ with Down Syndrome’s right to Life, but also Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. There is no liberty locked away somewhere and there is no way to pursue any potential happiness these people could have if they were segregated from the mainstream population.

This goes back to the original point of my post. These hateful individuals who created this group can’t get Down Syndrome themselves, but they could have a child with it, one day. They could end up being disabled in some other way and see just how hurtful remarks can be when aimed at them. Karma is a bitch. We as humans often realize this too late in our lives.

In the end, the group was removed, though I don’t think I swayed any opinions in the debate. I leave you with these final thoughts I included on FB.

This is more than just mere ignorance. They are posting pictures of dead, mutilated babies and saying this should be all people with Downs. They are saying they’d like to physically attack (punch) people with Downs. They claim they wish to incite violence against a group of individuals with a specific disability and that goes beyond freedom of speech. You may not get it, but allowing such ignorance to congregate and spread on such a forum leads to misinformation and more ignorance….

People will disabilities are still treated like second class citizens. The disability community is, by far, the most discriminated against minority group. It’s also the biggest minority group and the only one any individual in the world can become a part of at any point in their life. The reason for this is because so many people take such a laissez faire attitude when it comes to defending the inalienable rights (to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) of people with disabilities. The right to life…not death regardless of disability. So, it’s okay to say they want to take away someone’s human right because they deem the person inferior?

You pointed out the exact problem with why Hitler was not stopped early on. The U.S. had an attitude of, “Hey it isn’t us.” So, we chose to do nothing. We only ended up getting involved because of Pearl Harbor. We had to be personally attacked before we would stand up to Hitler, and even then, it wasn’t because we actually wanted to get involved and save the Jews.

It is the strength in numbers idea. If you have one or two people who feel a certain way about an idea, they usually keep their mouths shut. Once they grow, then the ideas spread and then it inevitably leads to actions. When Hitler was beginning, not everyone believed the Jews needed to be exterminated. As the Nazi party grew, it soon became better to be a part of the party than not, and adopt such heinous beliefs….

The idea is to try to stop the violence before it begins, to educate the public about these types of groups, and to inevitably protect the minority from the majority. If we tolerate such hate groups, allowing them to spout their rhetoric, in a public forum that allows people like me to COMPLAIN and REPORT them specifically for attacking a select group of individuals, then essentially we are ignoring a problem that could grow into something much bigger.

Facebook obviously feels that certain groups of people or specific individuals should NOT be attacked in any of their forums because they have a report button option specifically for this purpose whether their terms of service espouses such notions clearly or not. It’s one thing to say you hate someone or something. It is another to talk about how you punch children with Down’s Syndrome in their faces or how you want to kill them.

I didn’t ask you or anyone else to report this group. In fact, I didn’t even include a link to said group. I think my entire point in my original post was lost. The original message I was trying to get at was that any person in this world can become disabled tomorrow. So sticks and stones. If you treat people with disabilities like crap and then you become disabled yourself, don’t be surprised when you are treated like crap, too.

Essentially, the goal is to realize that people with disabilities are no different than any other human in the most essential of ways. It is foolish to overlook someone for a wheelchair or for having a low IQ. This person may possess gifts and talents you’d only know existed had you taken the time to give said person a chance. The sad truth is, most people don’t give those with disabilities chances and miss out on the greatness these people have to offer.

I was merely pointing out that this group possesses such attitudes that seek to limit those with a specific disability. This type of ignorance spreads and is part of why people with disabilities are still treated so poorly in mainstream society. I have been educating groups of people on disabilities and all that those of us with disabilities can accomplish despite the limitations society has tried to thrust upon us since I was ten years old. Perhaps I am a bit passionate in my quest to finding a sense of equality for those of us with disabilities, but you’d be hard pressed to find any advocate who is not passionate about such a cause they believe in.

I will continue to stand up for what I believe in, even if it isn’t considered the right way to do things or too emotive. I believe this group did attack a specific group. So, I took the action FB allowed me to take against said group, by reporting them.

I leave you all with this thought:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

[tags]Facebook, Hate Speech, Freedom of Speech, First Amedment, Bill of Rights, Facebook Group, Down Syndrome, Disability[/tags]


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