Line Between Free Speech and Hate Speech in Florida 

leifertlaw October 17, 2017 Uncategorized

An incident just this past summer had residents of St. Petersburg, Florida questioning the line between free speech and hate speech in Florida.When offensive signs started to appear on the lawn of a home in the Historic Old Northeast community, residents wanted them taken down, citing that the signs were nothing but hate speech against certain races, sexes, and those with disabilities. But as the city of St. Petersburg and others in Florida soon learned, the homeowner was simply partaking of their right to free speech. Contact a knowledgeable attorney that can work tirelessly to protect your rights.

What is Hate Speech?

The simple truth is that in the United States, ‘hate speech’ is not really a legal concept, although hate crimes certainly are. The act of committing a hate crime against a person or property is one that actually violates a person, such as beating someone because they are of a different race, or destroying their home in a fire for the same reason.

Simply stating that an individual is against certain groups is in fact, not a crime, making the line between free speech and hate speech in Florida a little easier to parse. The difference is that when a hate crime is committed, the act would still be considered a crime even if there is no hate towards an ethnicity, sex or otherwise. When that hatred is present during the course of a crime, a person may be punished more harshly and face more severe sentencing as a result of that hate.  

Free Speech Protections

A person’s right to free speech is one that is protected under the First Amendment in the Constitution of the United States. The very act of protecting free speech is so that all speech is protected, even when it is offensive. And when the government starts prohibiting one person from expressing their opinions, it then becomes a slippery slope as to what other kinds of speech will be the next to be targeted.  

There are certain things the government can do when laws or bylaws are being broken. In the case in St. Petersburg, city officials were prepared to have the homeowner remove some of the signs because there were too many and the amount of them went against the city’s bylaws.  But many of them were taken down by the time city officials had time to act. And although some remained displayed on the lawn, they did not go against the city’s bylaws and so were allowed to be displayed. 

Actions the Government Can Take

The government can also take measures when certain speech is considered to be fighting words, or words that incite violence. But this is the only kind of speech that is not protected under the First Amendment.  

For instance, if a speaker was telling a group of people to kill all members of a certain race, this could be considered hate speech and the government could step in to protect the people who were being spoken against.

But simply voicing an opinion is allowed in all states and is an important right for Americans. Lawmakers are hesitant to fight against that right for good reason. As long as no one is inciting violence, people should always be allowed to speak their mind, even when those around them may not agree with what they are saying. 

Consulting a Lawyer

This nation is known for its dedication to protecting the rights and freedoms of all its individuals. Chief among those rights is the right to free speech. While there is a lot of latitude in interpreting free speech, there is some speech that while protected, is hateful and can even incite violence. It is important to know the difference between the kind of speech that is protected, and the kind of speech that is somewhat criminalized. If you want to know more about the line between free speech and hate speech, get in touch with a skilled Fort Lauderdale attorney that can inform you of your rights, and can protect you.

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