The other hallmark of constitutional illiteracy is the claim that the First Amendment doesn’t protect “hate speech.” And by making that claim last week, Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate, revealed himself to be a constitutional illiterate. Then, predictably, he doubled down on his ignorance.
In First Amendment law, the term “hate speech” is meaningless. All speech is equally protected whether it’s hateful or cheerful. It doesn’t matter if it’s racist, sexist or in poor taste, unless speech falls into a few very narrow categories — like “true threats,” which have to address a specific individual, or “incitement,” which must constitute an immediate and intentional encouragement to imminent lawless action — it’s protected.
The term “hate speech” was invented by people who don’t like that freedom, and who want to give the — completely false — impression that there’s a kind of speech that the First Amendment doesn’t protect because it’s hateful. What they mean by “hateful,” it seems, is really just that it’s speech they don’t agree with.