I don't believe that my concept of civil rights, however, includes the "right to openly hate and advocate the elimination of, or disenfranchisement of certain groups of people", or "the right to abuse people". I am all for allowing Christians and Muslims to practice their faith, and for political groups to promote their beliefs, but when that "faith" includes bombing abortion clinics, sequestering a congregation in a "compound" so as to cut them off from society and control all information, or the "political beliefs" involve advocating the taking up of arms to shoot and kill other citizens, racism, disenfranchisement of others, or other patently antisocial activity, it's not about rights.
It's often said that people have a right "to be an asshole" if they choose to be -- Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Andrew Schlafly are all perfect examples of people practicing their right to be an asshole, and advocate ideas that are idiotic, mean-spirited, fraudulent, or just plain dumb. The problem is that all of these people are like modern day Joseph Goebbels. They are straddling the thin line of propaganda, balancing between mere political speech and hate. Behind everything they say is thinly veiled racism, sexism, fascism, but most importantly, a disdain for education, civil rights and constitutional freedoms. If enough people follow them, it could lead to the kind of fascist state where mob rule wins over constitutional democracy -- where the vigilantism of the Wild West replaces the rule of law and fair trials.
I do not believe that we can allow them to go unopposed, without putting back into place the laws which used to govern news and information programs -- The old fairness and accuracy doctrine that was made impotent when Fox News won a case by claiming that their news broadcasts were "entertainment" and not subject to any guidelines of journalistic integrity. All any media propagandist needs to do is proclaim their show to be "entertainment", and they instantly have no responsibility to separate opinion from fact, be objective or even report facts at all. They can just proclaim whatever they want their viewers to think is the truth, but say "we're entertainment" to a judge, and they have no responsibility for what they say. They can tell their reporters WHAT to say in a report, even if it's not true. They can craft intricate hate-pieces that slander anyone. They can reach millions with messages of hate, and there is no recourse.
So when we see a preacher preaching hate, or a pundit preaching hate, I believe it is dangerous. The typically mean-spirited nature of such speech has no legitimate place in society -- it's intentionally destructive, intentionally harmful. That's never good for society. Protect free speech, but when it comes to people who advocate hate, and mean-spirited treatment of others, I say fine them, make them criminals, and let them suffer for their hate.
How far should we go with allowing free speech? I have always been an advocate of completely unlimited free speech. I have always considered that if someone is offended by my speech, or someone else's, that they're just sissies who can't handle dealing with opinions that are different from their own. After considering the discussion over how people in Canada can no longer preach what the Bible says about homosexuality, because it's hate-speech against gays (I mean, think about it, Leviticus advocates that homosexuals be executed), I thought about why that was good, and why it could be bad. I realized that the good aspects of hate-speech laws sounded a lot more convincing to me than the "total free speech" I advocated.
There certainly are some types of speech or advocacy that people consider dangerous. For example, it is currently illegal to issue written or verbal death threats. People who have openly advocated assassination and killing of others have been charged and put on trial for it. There is good reason why death threats are illegal and not "protected free speech". It is because a death threat victimizes a person by creating an atmosphere of hostility and fear, or in constitutional language, it "attacks domestic tranquility", which the preamble of the United States Constitution purports to ensure for all. Imagine a family living in a neighborhood, and having several neighbors tell them "We'll kill you". The family is forced to live in fear, incurring mental and physical stress. It's not just that one family -- its any people living in the neighborhood or surrounding areas who hear of these threats. If you can imagine the family being Jewish or African-American, and the threats coming from neo-Nazis, it becomes even worse of a situation. It is unacceptable to make death threats for that reason -- it disrupts domestic tranquility, creating fear and hostility in a community. We have laws against disturbing the peace. You cannot set off explosives in the middle of the night, play extremely loud music that wakes your neighbors up, use heavy construction equipment early in the morning when people are still sleeping, and such, for the same reason -- it disrupts domestic tranquility.
Rather than issue a death threat, some people thought it was clever to avoid making a direct death threat against someone, by suggesting that someone else do it. For example, on a Christian radio program in Denver, Colorado, back in 1993, Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, said a prayer over the air where he asked that someone please assassinate Dr. Warren Hern, a Colorado abortion provider. The authorities didn't think that was free speech, and promptly arrested him. Members of his organization were found guilty of harassing the family members of various doctors who provided abortions, when they followed doctors' children home from school, or followed the families when they drove around town. Again, legally speaking, such activities are not protected free speech because they disrupt domestic tranquility, and force the victims to live in fear of hostilities or attacks. At a time when many abortion providers were being assassinated by anti-abortion activists, this became all the more frightening for these victims.
So on the issue of punditry, and the writers of trash-talking political diatribes, as well as so-called "entertainment" broadcasts of Fox News, and other conservative hate-filled language against so-called liberals, I believe that the same situation applies. When a Rush Limbaugh, an Ann Coulter, or a Sean Hannity goes on the air, and incites hatred against various groups considered "liberal" or "un-American", they are doing the same thing that a Neo-Nazi does when they spray-paint a swastika on a wall in a neighborhood. They are inciting people with propaganda, to hate other citizens. They don't actually come out and say "these people should be hated, treated with suspicion, killed, etc..." but they certainly incite animosity and hatred against certain people in society. After 9-11, the cry of "Treason" was heard a lot from far-right pundits. Treason often is punished by the death sentence (and the pundits made sure to mention that when they accused people of it), which is sort of a roundabout way of suggesting that so-called liberals or critics of the Bush administration should be killed. If you were a liberal or a Bush critic, you certainly felt a little bit of your domestic tranquility threatened by hearing such rhetoric.
There is a difference between being politically incorrect, and the type of speech that Joseph Goebbels delivered in Nazi Germany. One is simple criticism, occasionally crude, profane or awkward, without suggestion of violence or action that would scare the target of your criticism into thinking that they were in any danger. The other suggests that the target of the criticism is not worthy of their constitutional protections or freedoms, that they deserve to suffer, and that people who take it upon themselves to punish them would or should be considered to be doing a patriotic duty of some kind. It is one thing to suggest that a president, or a politician, or a religious leader, is wrong about their actions or opinions; that is totally reasonable, protected speech. It is entirely a different story, however, to call the same people devils, traitors, and suggest that they be intimidated, harassed, or held in suspicion, or treated unpleasantly for it.
When a Christian Minister or politician quotes the Bible, and reads the verse from Leviticus that orders homosexuals to be stoned to death, he is merely presenting an objective fact about what his faith says. When he suggests to his followers that they need to follow this law of God to the letter, and use votes or direct action to achieve it, he is victimizing gay people -- creating unease and spoiling domestic tranquility. All you have to do is change the references from Homosexuals to Jews, and the book from the Bible to Mein Kampf, and it brings the hate-speech to life quite vividly.
The disruption of other citizens' domestic tranquility is a crime; it is a violation of a person's constitutional protection. Disturbing the peace is a crime on most laws of our states. I say we police it. Thinly veiled threats against other citizens, no matter how cleverly worded they are, have an effect on their intended targets. They create unease, fear, and tension in society. People who make use this hate-mongering speech are sociopaths, plain and simple. They do not care about the constitutional rights of the people that they victimize, and in fact, many of them advocate the idea that those people have no constitutional rights, or that their constitutional rights should be taken away. Such ideas, are, ultimately un-American, because the spirit of the constitution is that all people, regardless of who they are or what they believe, have the same rights and protections. For most of the purveyors of hate-speech, the idea that someone they despise can be their equal, and have every right to disagree with them, is an inconvenient thing to live with. Ultimately, hate speech is about advocacy of inequality and non-protection of citizens. You can't get any less American than that.