The Supreme Court missed the mark last year in unanimously shooting down a St. Paul, Minnesota, statute imposing criminal liability on those engaged in “hate speech.” The problem with the Court’s decision in R.A.V. v. St. Paul is that it dwelled on legal niceties rather than recognizing the time-tested, historically proven method for dealing with insults, hate speech, and offensive points of view aired loudly in public—dueling.
The Court properly struck down St. Paul’s uncommonly misguided ordinance, but it left the door open for more nonsense by addressing the so-called “fighting words” exception to the First Amendment, a concept that first reared its slippery head in a 1942 Supreme Court decision. The Court should not get involved in carving out “fighting words” exceptions that have no textual support in the First Amendment, when dueling is clearly what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution. Shorn of years of lawyerly gloss, the First Amendment essentially says you can say whatever you want, and the Second Amendment says everyone can carry a gun. Get it? You can almost see James Madison winking.
In fact, for those who are talented at finding constitutional “rights” in the penumbras, nooks, and crannies of our Constitution, if you look real hard at the cracks in the original document in Philadelphia and stand on your toes, on certain days you can see the Right to Dueling standing just behind the Right to Abortion and the Right to Get Away With Committing a Crime if the Police Don’t Read You Your Rights.
However unlikely it may be, the liberal do-gooders in St. Paul and elsewhere who lament R.A.V. v. St. Paul as a license to engage in “hate speech” should welcome dueling with open arms, if you’ll excuse the pun. The only problem from the liberal perspective is that dueling efficiently solves the hate speech problem without relying on the government middleman and his spangled caravan of blue-ribbon commissions, task forces, advisory committees, and pensioned minions. The perpetually meddling left was quick to support laws that allowed governments and academic administrators to stick their noses in the middle of a citizen’s sentences and to sniff around for some vaguely defined level of noxiousness, but without the prospect of some Federal Hate Speech Commission on the horizon you can bet it’ll want no part of dueling.
Of course, any dueling law would have some parameters. In determining whether speech is offensive or hateful enough to legally prompt a duel, the law would employ the approach favored by a significant portion of our fuzzy-headed populace on hard social and political issues, paralyzed as they arc by subjectivity and the fear of making “value judgments.” Simply put, if someone or some group really believes that certain speech is offensive, then the offending speaker can be challenged to a fight to the death. This subjective approach is virtually identical to the mindset of the proponents of hate speech regulations in statehouses and on campuses: if it offends somebody, it can be banned.
That seems fair enough, and for me that makes my definition of hate speech simple. You could stand at the end of the bar and call me a whisky-soaked, shanty Irish, no-good papist Harp donkey, and I wouldn’t even look up from my drink. But just try to tell me that wealth redistribution through higher taxes combined with increased federal regulation will solve our social and economic ills, and watch out. For me, them’s fightin’ words.
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