There’s nothing new about hate speech/actions; they’ve been around since Genesis 4. Until recently, misguided speech/actions have been protected in this country by the First Amendment. I can remember when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Nazis to march through the predominately Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois (National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 1977), and you can’t get much more hateful, obnoxious, or wrong than the Nazis. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that speech that is not irresponsible (e.g., shouting fire in a crowded theater), defamatory, or likely to lead to riot or harm is legally protected. Freedom of speech has been deemed more important than hurt feelings.
Europe has been less reluctant about criminalizing certain speech and actions. France, for instance, recently tried to outlaw denying or “contesting” the truth about crimes against humanity (such as the Holocaust and the Turkish genocide of Armenians ca. 1920). While doing permission research for a Princeton University professor’s book on the Third Reich, I was in contact with the finance minister of the State of Bavaria (which owns most of the Nazi copyrights) and was somewhat surprised to learn that it is illegal in Germany to distribute or promote Mein Kampf or other National Socialist publications.
There has been a lot in the news lately about hate speech/crimes, but based on what I’ve read and heard, it seems to me that most of the hate is coming from those who hate Judeo-Christian values and beliefs. If you’re a baker who makes wedding cakes or a photographer who takes wedding pictures, it’s now illegal (in some places) to decline orders for same-sex ceremonies based on your religious convictions.
Historically, the criminalization of politically incorrect, insensitive, or insulting speech often boomerangs. They who co-opt the government to criminalize what they don’t like, often find that down the road the government will not like something about them. It is indeed a slippery slope to employ force to attack viewpoints that make you uncomfortable. When society doesn’t protect wrong views, it’s usually not long before right views are also outlawed.
So how ought we deal with speech/actions motivated by hate without resorting to totalitarianism? “The answer to stupidity and falsehood is intelligence and truth” (J. W. Montgomery). You don’t rebut flat-earthers by jailing them but by enlightening and educating them. “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (Jn. 12.46). “The Lord’s servant must not be a man of strife: he must be kind to all, ready and able to teach; he must have patience and the ability gently to correct those who oppose his message” (2 Tim. 2.24–25, JBP). Instruction, not coercion, is the Christian response to error.
“The world will hate you,” said Jesus, and I won’t be surprised if traditional Biblical views on things like marriage, morality, etc. are increasingly criminalized. Because the world hated Christ, it killed Him (Jn. 8.40). The Lord who wasn’t protected by the government didn’t promise His people political protection. But He did leave the directive: “Live wisely among those who are not Christians. . . Let your conversation be gracious and effective so that you will have the right answer for everyone” (Col. 4.5–6, NLT).
Hate in all its manifestations is never an option for Christians (Eph. 4.31). If believing and living the truth makes us hated, let us offer no insults when insulted, threaten no revenge when persecuted, but in trusting faith commit ourselves to God (1 Pet. 2.23).
— In the Prairie Papers, #118