Murdoch: How free speech relates to precedent

Murdoch: How free speech relates to precedent (Photo from

This is a weekly installment of Craig Murdoch’s column series, “Dazed and Crazed.”

Freedom of speech can surprisingly be a contentious issue with some people. Personally, I am a free speech absolutist. This means that I think all speech is free speech unless it is inciting violence or a direct threat of violence. In some countries similar to ours, there are laws restricting what they consider to be hate speech. I take issue with laws such as these because I do not trust the government to determine what is and is not hate speech.

The issue with setting precedents like that can be seen with things that President Obama has done. When discussing drone strikes, Obama went crazy using them freely even though it was shown that 90 percent of the time a drone strike is used, it hits the wrong target. Obama killed a 16-year-old American citizen in Yemen with a drone strike when they intended to kill his father who was believed to be in cahoots with Al-Qaeda. The issue with that is that his father was an American citizen.

So first of all, every American citizen is guaranteed due process are they not? A jury of their peers? Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (the 16 year old son) was totally unaffiliated with any terrorist organization. When pressed about the issue, the White House press secretary at the time, Robert Gibbs, basically blamed the son for having the wrong father. Many made the argument that Obama is responsible and will not let things of that nature get out of hand.

That was not the point. Obama was not going to stay in office forever and when someone you do not agree with is in office, you do not want that person to have the precedent set that it is allowable to kill American citizens and get away with it without much notice or media coverage.

What a surprise! Now, some democrats disagree with came into power, but now he has the precedent to do what Obama did. The 8-year-old American little sister of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed in the very first raid Donald Trump ordered.

My point in telling you that is to show you that once something is done, a precedent is set and it is difficult to undo that precedent. So if it is determined that hate speech is a crime, who determines what hate speech is and how can we be sure that they will not specifically make the definition vague enough that anything they disagree with is considered offensive hate speech? How can we be sure that anything more specific isn’t politically motivated?

I can only see one way to fight back against hate speech. That is with your own, more intelligent speech. If someone is espousing truly vile beliefs, then it should not be difficult to completely tear apart their positions and arguments because they are not beliefs that will hold up under scrutiny. When you make their hate speech illegal you are creating sympathy for them as an oppressed class, not for doing physical damage but for saying something controversial. Who knows what will be considered controversial in 30 years? 60 years ago, it was controversial in some places to say that blacks were equal to whites. Many would have considered a white person who said that self hating and hateful of the white race. So we must not throw someone in jail for a particular belief, but we should argue with them and explain why they are wrong, exposing them for the unintelligent and not well thought beliefs they hold.

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