When the Supreme Court strikes down laws prohibiting cross burning, or Nazis win the right to march through a predominantly Jewish community outside Chicago, many people wonder how and why such heinous forms of expression are legally permissible in this country. Samuel Walker addresses this question, tracing the history of hate speech in the United States from the 1920’s through the early 1990’s.
Walker’s central argument is that this country’s tolerance of such expression was not inevitable or accidental. It depended on successive interpretations of the First Amendment which, in turn, were influenced by the efforts of free speech advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union and civil rights groups. The traditional position of these groups, which Walker shares, is that the civil rights of groups such as African Americans and the Jewish community are best promoted by strong protection of free speech rights for everyone—even when free speech is turned hatefully against these same groups. Walker documents more recent efforts to curb abusive speech, particularly on college campuses, arguing against such efforts on Constitutional and philosophical grounds.
Walker constructs his arguments clearly and persuasively while presenting historical information in an objective, unbiased manner. All sides of the issues are given fair treatment. While some background knowledge of American law and history would be helpful for readers, HATE SPEECH is thorough and accessible enough for anyone interested in this ongoing controversy in American society.