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Is it OK to be offensive?I have to write a paper on the limits of free speech called,...

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dancer7 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted April 15, 2012 at 5:33 PM via web

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Is it OK to be offensive?

I have to write a paper on the limits of free speech called, "Should it be legal to make offensive comments in modern society?"

Here's the question...

Do citizens of modern democracies have the right to be protected from offensive language? Or do citizens have the right to say what they believe no matter what? Are there limits to the freedom of speech? Support your answer with specific examples from contemporary American society, showing both acceptable and unacceptable levels of offense.

Generally, I am leaning towards 'Yes' it is OK to be offensive. Can you give me your views on where you would set the limit of free speech. Thanks. :-)

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 15, 2012 at 6:20 PM (Answer #2)

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If we do not allow people to be offensive, we will essentially be banning all political speech.  Essentially any position a politician takes will be offensive to someone.  There is no way to draw a bright line between something that is gratuitously offensive and should be banned (like that church's protests at military funerals) and something that is a legitimate statement of a political opinion.

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dancer7 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted April 15, 2012 at 6:32 PM (Answer #3)

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If we do not allow people to be offensive, we will essentially be banning all political speech.  Essentially any position a politician takes will be offensive to someone.  There is no way to draw a bright line between something that is gratuitously offensive and should be banned (like that church's protests at military funerals) and something that is a legitimate statement of a political opinion.

Thanks for your answer, but it doesn't really help me.

  • Is it OK for a KKK radio station to put out a broadcast calling for all good white folks to shoot all Jews?
  • Is it OK for a Christian on Fox news to call homosexuals sick and deviant perverts who are threatening social stability?
  • Is it OK to call for a totally peaceful uprising against corporate capitalism in order to install a communist system?

???

The question asks for specifics and examples. Where is the line in your opinion?

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mwalter822 | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

Posted April 15, 2012 at 8:47 PM (Answer #4)

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Generally speaking, it is ok to say offensive things about other people unless you are threatening them in some real way. I would not support threatening them physically. You could, however, threaten to do something else, like boycott their business.

I would also want to draw the line regarding slander or libel. It should not be ok to intentionally say something untrue about someone that injures them in some way, even if it only injures their reputation.

 

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dancer7 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted April 15, 2012 at 9:54 PM (Answer #5)

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Generally speaking, it is ok to say offensive things about other people unless you are threatening them in some real way. I would not support threatening them physically. You could, however, threaten to do something else, like boycott their business.

I would also want to draw the line regarding slander or libel. It should not be ok to intentionally say something untrue about someone that injures them in some way, even if it only injures their reputation.

 

That's a nice separation of categories, thank you! :-) You can call for financial attacks against other groups, but not physically attacks. That's very interesting. 

 

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loraaa | Student | Valedictorian

Posted April 16, 2012 at 12:07 AM (Answer #6)

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Yes, there are limits to freedom of speech.
  Look at "Eric Sanchez and Helen Thomas"
  Unfortunately, there is no freedom in America.
Especially if we talk about the Jews!!!

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wannam | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:05 PM (Answer #7)

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It is okay to be offensive, but that doesn't mean there aren't consequences to our words.  A KKK radio station might not have a large audience or much funding.  Yes, Eric Sanchez was terminated from his employment for his comments.  However, he still had the right to say what he said.  He is not under arrest for his comments.  A business is not going to employ someone to represent them that does not follow company rules.  Look at it from another angle.  A radio host on a KKK station would likely be terminated for making positive remarks about Jews or African-Americans.  In America, we have the freedom to say what we want to say, but that doesn't mean there won't be consequences to our personal lives.  Mel Gibson has made anti-Semitic remarks and has had to endure media coverage and boycotts of his films.  This doesn't mean he didn't have the right to say it, but it does mean that I have the right to disagree.

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Kristen Lentz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:42 PM (Answer #8)

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In today's society I would be very cautious about when and where one makes offensive remarks.  While you are constitutionally protected from persecution, you are not protected from all consequences.

Many employers and even friends and potential romantic interests and conducting searches on people before hiring/ getting involved with them.  A post of facebook, a blog, or even a message board comment could come back to haunt you if it falls outside of acceptable social perameters. 

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 16, 2012 at 3:12 PM (Answer #9)

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I would go along with the idea that speech intending to cause harm, to incite violence, and which might impinge upon the rights of an inividual (in terms of safety) crosses the line of propriety and shouldn't be protected.

The goal of rules governing speech should be to find a balance of the rights of individuals, providing as much freedom of speech for the speaker as possible while also protecting non-speakers in their rights. 

An example of acceptable speech (which bothers me rather profoundly): A group of people who would probably call themselves political activists, who are actually selling low-brow political literature to passersby, gathers across the street from my place of business monthly. Every month they put up a sign with the image of the president on it with a mustache painted on his face. 

The childishness only underlines the groups cynicism, to my mind, as they shill political literature that tauts numbers which are not corroborated or factual in support of a non-existent political cause (no candidates, no actual agenda). They are obvious frauds, really, but I defend their right to gather and to speak. I even defend their right to paint a mustache on one of my heroes. 

As I understand the spirit of the American Constitution, they can be as dumb as they want in public as long as they don't threaten to do more than paint a mustache on someone. 

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 16, 2012 at 5:27 PM (Answer #10)

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The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to protect offensive speech (indeed, that's the only kind that needs protecting) but within certain limits. Going back to post 3, the first example, encouraging people to kill people, would be "fighting words," which call for acts of violence against private individuals. The second two examples from post 3, I think, would be constitutional. A great example of highly offensive speech that was recently protected by the Court's interpretation of the Constitution were the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church. They were protected because they were deemed public, and not aimed at evoking violence at or by anyone. This distinction can be applied to hate crime legislation as well. Speech that encourages people to hate a particular group is one thing, speech that encourages people to commit acts of violence against people is another. It is a very fine line.

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dancer7 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted April 16, 2012 at 7:22 PM (Answer #11)

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Yes, there are limits to freedom of speech.
  Look at "Eric Sanchez and Helen Thomas"
  Unfortunately, there is no freedom in America.
Especially if we talk about the Jews!!!

 

Hi Loraaa. You suggest that we are not allowed to talk about 'The Jews'. What do you think are we not allowed to say about 'them'? And what are we allowed to say about 'them'? Do you think this prohibition of criticising Jews is based in law or is it restricted by social convention?

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dancer7 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted April 16, 2012 at 7:29 PM (Answer #12)

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The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to protect offensive speech (indeed, that's the only kind that needs protecting) but within certain limits. Going back to post 3, the first example, encouraging people to kill people, would be "fighting words," which call for acts of violence against private individuals. The second two examples from post 3, I think, would be constitutional. A great example of highly offensive speech that was recently protected by the Court's interpretation of the Constitution were the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church. They were protected because they were deemed public, and not aimed at evoking violence at or by anyone. This distinction can be applied to hate crime legislation as well. Speech that encourages people to hate a particular group is one thing, speech that encourages people to commit acts of violence against people is another. It is a very fine line.

Thanks rrteacher. I agree. I think there is a grey are between aceptable and unacceptable, and only context can provide us with a decision as to wether it is OK or not OK.

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beefheart | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted April 16, 2012 at 7:44 PM (Answer #13)

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The Supreme Court has interpreted the First Amendment to protect offensive speech (indeed, that's the only kind that needs protecting) but within certain limits. Going back to post 3, the first example, encouraging people to kill people, would be "fighting words," which call for acts of violence against private individuals. The second two examples from post 3, I think, would be constitutional. A great example of highly offensive speech that was recently protected by the Court's interpretation of the Constitution were the protests of the Westboro Baptist Church. They were protected because they were deemed public, and not aimed at evoking violence at or by anyone. This distinction can be applied to hate crime legislation as well. Speech that encourages people to hate a particular group is one thing, speech that encourages people to commit acts of violence against people is another. It is a very fine line.

Thanks rrteacher. I agree. I think there is a grey are between aceptable and unacceptable, and only context can provide us with a decision as to wether it is OK or not OK.

I agree. It depends not only on the content of the speech, but on who is talking, and where, and when, etc. There is a very large grey area.

Compare these two events...

1) A well-loved and respected Jewish rabbi tells an after-dinner joke about The Holocaust during a reunion of holocaust survivors and their friends. He tells it in a very 'jewish' way. 

2) How has that joke changed if the Chancellor of Germany tells exactly same joke, in a very 'german' way, during an Anniversary Memorial at Aushwitz?

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