Jordan Candler / April 24, 2017

Howard Dean Really Hates ‘Hate Speech’

He and other leftists want to set their own limits for the kind of speech the First Amendment protects.

Former Vermont governor and failed presidential aspirant Howard Dean has some advice for conservative firebrands targeted by student snowflakes on college campuses. According to Dean, “Hate speech is not protected by the first amendment.” He asserted this last week after former New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse reminded his followers (also via Twitter), “Free Speech Defenders Don’t Forget: Ann Coulter once said: My only regret w/ Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.”

But that wasn’t the end of Dean’s screed. In March, Ann Coulter, in her typically inflammatory way, facetiously said, “I would like to see a little more violence from the innocent Trump supporters set upon by violent leftist hoodlums.” This prompted another retort from Dean, who last night asserted, “This is NOT protected speech under the first amendment.” Add all this up, Dean contends, and here’s the bottom line: “This does not mean she can be prosecuted for saying this but I argue this kind of stuff is grounds for barring her from a University campus.”

There’s a legitimate argument to be had regarding Coulter’s approach to confabulation. But there’s no overstating how important it is to protect free speech — one of the cornerstones of a free society. That’s why Coulter’s remarks — unnecessarily provocative though they may be — shouldn’t be, and legally aren’t, considered to be promoting violence. As Jacob Sullum observes, “In the 1969 case Brandenburg v. Ohio, which involved a Klansman arrested for advocating violence in the service of a political cause, the Supreme Court said such speech is protected by the First Amendment unless it is aimed at inciting ‘imminent lawless action’ and is likely to have that effect. Neither Coulter’s Timothy McVeigh joke nor her comment about violence by Trump supporters fits that description.”

Eugene Volokh agrees: “Hateful ideas (whatever exactly that might mean) are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. One is as free to condemn, for instance, Islam — or Muslims, or Jews, or blacks, or whites, or illegal immigrants, or native-born citizens — as one is to condemn capitalism or socialism or Democrats or Republicans.” Moreover, he continues, “U.S. law has just never had occasion to define ‘hate speech’ any more than it has had occasion to define rudeness, evil ideas, unpatriotic speech, or any other kind of speech that people might condemn, but that does not constitute a legally relevant category.”

And there’s a reason for that. If “hate speech” can be interpreted any way we want, then literally any and all dissent is fair game. Oddly enough, an unlikely politician understands this. Another Vermont renegade, Bernie Sanders, correctly said, “Obviously Ann Coulter’s outrageous ― to my mind, off the wall. But you know, people have a right to give their two cents-worth, give a speech, without fear of violence and intimidation.” He even offered this challenge to anti-Coulter antagonists: “Ask her the hard questions. Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.”

And here we have yet another strange rift among leftists. Perhaps Sanders and DNC chief Tom Perez can add this to their list of issues to hash out while on their “unity tour,” whose only achievement thus far has been highlighting just how divided the party is.

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