Letter to the New York Times Regarding Editorial on Silencing Hate Speech

The following letter was submitted to The New York Times in response to "If We Silence Hate Speech, Will We Silence Resistance?" (Aug. 9)

To the Editor:

The first flaw in Erik Nielson’s argument is his failure to define hate speech, which clearly means different things to different people.   Speech that harasses, threatens or incites violence  - whether it emanates from the left or the right – contributes nothing to the marketplace of ideas, and engaging with those who spew such invective gives them a legitimacy they do not deserve.  By contrast, hate speech that is ugly but not harassing or threatening is best met by counterspeech.  The best weapon against this kind of hate is identifying it and standing up against it.

With regard to the latter, Nielson undermines his argument by understating the ugliness of hate speech coming from the left side of the political spectrum while duly condemning racist, anti-Semitic expressions from the right.  The “value” of the Million Man March cannot rationalize and legitimize Louis Farrakhan’s vile hatred and anti-Semitism any more than concerns about border security can rationalize and legitimize irrational xenophobia.

Yes, the First Amendment protects even the most hateful speech. That makes it even more important for all of us consistently to condemn those abuse their “free speech” rights to spew hate, regardless of who the target of their ire may be.

Kenneth Jacobson

Deputy National Director

Anti-Defamation League

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