Hate Speech vs Free Speech ?
The recent incident involving Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors Chair Steve Madrone has sparked significant controversy, shedding light on concerns surrounding the protection of First Amendment rights when placed though the individual filter of perception of hate. As citizens who cherish the principles of free speech and open discourse, we must examine the events that unfolded during the recent Board of Supervisors meeting and consider the broader implications on freedom within our republic.
In this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, a senior veteran named Charles Wilson stepped up to exercise his First Amendment rights during the public comment session. However, Chair Steve Madrone intervened, claiming that Wilson’s remarks crossed into the territory of hate speech. This move drew swift attention from the community at large, with the Lost Coast Outpost (LocoOpo) being the first to spotlight the incident.
As surprising as it might seem, LocoOpo was quick to call out Madrone’s actions. However, they framed the article with a character smear on Charles Wilson for his beliefs on the Covid Pandemic and the activism he was involved with speaking out against it. This action is not surprising to those of us who pay attention to local media bias and the tactics used in attacks on character while attempting to diminish credibility.
Rationale & Intervention
Madrone’s decision to curtail Charles Wilson’s public comment raises important questions about the delicate balance between freedom of speech and avoiding hate speech. The chair of the board justified his action by stating that while freedom of speech is a fundamental right, it requires respect for others and a prohibition on personal attacks or hate speech against individuals or groups.
Madrone’s actions shine a spotlight on a global issue, commonly known as the woke mind virus, a concept introduced by Elon Musk warning of actions that diminish free speech and calling it a virus of the mind.
Chair Madrone Cut Charles’s public comment, saying this:
“Charles, this is — this is crossing over into hate speech, and it’s inappropriate and not allowed,”
And later attempting to justify his action by saying
“And just to be clear, when you cross over into hate speech against individuals or groups, that is simply not allowed. Yes, freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, but it requires respect of each other and not making personal attacks against individuals or groups that cross over into the hate speech category. So that is why I stopped the commenter.”
Shortly after the incident, County Administrative Officer Elishia Hayes sent out an all-staff email detailing the situation. Hayes expressed concern that the public commenter had crossed the line into hate speech, and emphasized that hate speech would not be tolerated in future meetings. This communication underscores the perceived gravity of the situation, as it appears that Hayes had imagined the context of Wilson’s public comment before even hearing all of it.
“The Board of Supervisors values the Constitution and a person’s First Amendment Right to free speech. The Board also is required to conduct an orderly meeting, and the Board Chair is responsible for ensuring that a person’s right to speak do not infringe on the rights and the protections of others. While all members of our community have the right to free speech, it does have a very real impact on residents and staff, particularly when it veers into discussions of violence. At no point should threats of physical violence ever enter the arena of discussions around public policy, even during public comment. It was important to recognize that.”
Mr. Wilson’s comments were limited pursuant to Gov Code Section 54957.95, the Rules of the Humboldt Board of Supervisors, and the Board’s Meeting Disruption Response Guidelines.
I will not repeat his full statement, but the commenter talked favorably about being able to shoot people who were disliked by the majority, and taken in context with the other comments he made I perceived that to be a statement that could elicit a violent response towards certain populations within our own community, and at that point I recommended the public comment be halted. In the future, public commenters will be warned prior to having their comment period limited in such fashion.
The county supports the right to free speech, and at the same time it will steadfastly support ensuring that residents are safe. Safe to be their authentic selves – in Board Chambers, in the workplace and in our community.”
Content & Legality
Charles Wilson’s comments that led to this controversy centered on the assertion that women have the right to not have a penis in the shower. He also shared his experience in the Army and being told to shoot people disliked by the government. While these statements are undoubtedly provocative, the question arises: do they truly constitute hate speech? The nuances of this debate beg us to reexamine the criteria by which we classify speech as hateful.
But how hateful was the content of Charles Wilson’s Public Comment? You decide for yourself and let us know in the comments after reading the transcript of his comment and watching the video below.
“Hi, this is Charles Wilson. My wife had a separate comment after I’m done anyway. Last month, the county had a strange political flag underneath the flying underneath the American flag and the California Republic flag. To me this indicates county support for child mutilation and elimination of women’s right to privacy and security.
There are talks of equality, equity and inclusivity, and which are marvelous political words. This. This , it’s, it’s, it’s like it’s in school when you’re in the old cafeteria line and some guy comes along and says cuts, and he wants to get, force his way in front of you. And you’re supposed to give way, the alphabet people do not have the right over others just because they say they do.
We’ve, uh we’ve been protesting various issues on the for the last four years on Fridays at the courthouse, I have a flag with a penis with a big slash across it, and then then saying not, not to have the penises in women’s showers. One guy said that I might offend Some transgender and he wouldn’t argue,I don’t argue.
But the transgenders do not have, what they’ve done is much more offensive than what I have there. In the 7th grade they have all this kind of stuff nowadays. After people, women have the right to not have a penis in the shower and it’s uh. When I was in the, when I volunteered for the army, I was told by government that I had to shoot people that the government didn’t like uh.”
A Legal expert weighed in on the matter after LocoOpo reached out. David Loy, the legal director for the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, unequivocally states that the First Amendment does not allow the government to silence or censor speech based on its viewpoint, even if some might consider it hateful, challenging the notion of a “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment. The fact that the board chair cut off Wilson’s comment due to personal disagreement highlights the potential dangers of suppressing speech under the pretext of “hate.”
Loy made the following statements
“There is no so-called ‘hate speech’ exception to the First Amendment,”
“The First Amendment does not allow the government to silence or censor speech, certainly, because of its viewpoint, even if some people might find that speech hateful.”
“But the First Amendment does not allow the government — or the presiding member of the board — to cut someone off and deprive them of their time at the podium simply because they don’t like what the person is saying or disagree with it or find it hateful,”
“It may be hateful, but that’s not an exception to the First Amendment.”
“If the chair or the board disagree with what someone is saying or wish to disavow or condemn it, they’re free to do so once that person’s time at the podium is done,”
Context & Perspective
Context is essential when evaluating any incident involving speech. Wilson’s comment was cut off mid-sentence, preventing listeners from fully understanding the trajectory of his argument. This illustrates the potential pitfalls of judging content in isolation. Without the full context, it becomes difficult to assess whether Wilson’s comment truly constitutes hate speech or merely represents a provocative perspective.
This occurred after the public comment I made, calling the board out for failing to respond to an email regarding the recent arrest of a member of the same protected community that Charles was addressing. Did this prime them for over reaction?
Watch my comment below and let us know in the comments.
This incident serves as a sobering reminder of the challenges we face in upholding the principles of free speech. In our diverse society, differences of opinion will inevitably arise, but it is imperative that we safeguard the right to express those differences without fear of suppression. Our nation’s founders established a republic to ensure that constitutional rights would be shielded from the influence of momentary popular opinions.
Free Speech has no Boundaries
As we grapple with the ramifications of the Steve Madrone incident, we must remember that protecting the First Amendment requires simply abide by the constitution. The line between free expression and hate speech is a line drawn in the sand, not to be found in our founding documents. By upholding the ideals our country was founded on and allowing individuals to fully express their thoughts without interruption, we can ensure that our republic remains vibrant and that our rights as citizens are preserved for generations to come.