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Hate Speech

The First Amendment prohibits the government from banning expression under "hate speech" laws.

The First Amendment protects speech that advocates a person’s point of view – even if that point of view is based on hatred of a certain group of people.  While many countries prohibit "hate speech" that attacks or maligns people based on certain characteristics or identities, the Constitution does not generally permit viewpoint- or content-based regulation of speech, and generally holds that there is an inherent unfairness in allowing only certain opinions on a topic to be expressed.  Thus, the Supreme Court routinely strikes down state and federal “hate speech” legislation that includes viewpoint-based restrictions on speech.

But some speech that might otherwise be protected as a point of view can be prohibited if a court determines that it is likely to incite violence.  Speech “incites violence” under the Court’s definition if it encourages others to commit violent acts at a particular time and place.  The Court differentiates between speech that serves as a general call for violent action and language that calls for violence at a specific time.

Many other countries do have regulations that determine whether certain viewpoints can be expressed; these laws typically address speech disparages a particular race, gender, ethnicity, religious affiliation, or nationality.  This may pose an issue if the country is able to claim that its laws apply to you and your art.

The Basics

An introduction to the important topics on hate speech, inciting violence, and the First Amendment.

What You Need to Know

The main things to think about when posting your work online.

Laws, Cases, and Other Resources

A more in-depth legal discussion of the laws and cases that shape the free speech environment around hate speech, inciting violence, and fighting words.