1. Which viewpoints on the issue of hate speech does Nielsen either explicitly mention or imply in her piece?2. Which viewpoints would you add if you were writing about this topic?3. How do Nielsen’s takeaways strengthen her discussion? Is she being objective? Why or why not? (Include two examples from the piece to support your answer)Nielsen The Case for Restricting Hate Speech
Guide to Writing
A Writer at Work
Northwestern University,
photo by John Zich
Laura Beth Nielsen The Case for Restricting Hate Speech
LAURA BETH NIELSEN is a professor of sociology and the director of
legal studies at Northwestern University. Nielsen –who has received
awards from the MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and
the National Science Foundation-serves as a research professor at the
American Bar Foundation, focusing on law and social change. She has
written several books, including License to Harass: Law, Hierarchy, and
Offensive Public Speech (2004), as well as a number of articles for both
scholarly journals and popular news outlets such as the Huffington Post and the Los Angeles
Times, in which this op-ed originally appeared in 2017.
As you read,
• think about your understanding of the part of the First Amendment concerning
freedom of speech – “Congress shall make no law
· abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press”-in light of what Nielsen explains about curtailments of
speech in the opening paragraph.
• consider how Nielsen uses a recent Supreme Court decision to frame the issue for
her readers. How does this framing affect your attitude toward the issue?
of .
sa sociologist and legal scholar, I struggle to explain
Legally, we tell members of traditionally disadvan-
taged groups that they must live with hate speech
Despite the 1st Amendment- I tell my students – local, except under very limited circumstances. The KKK can
state, and federal laws limit all kinds of speech. We parade down Main Street. People can’t falsely yell fire in
regulate advertising, obscenity, slander, libel, and a theater but can yell the N-word at a person of color.
inciting lawless action to name just a few. My students College women are told that a crowd of frat boys chant-
nod along until we get to racist and sexist speech. Some ing “no means yes and yes means anal” is something
can’t grasp why, if we restrict so many forms of speech, they must tolerate in the name of (someone else’s)
we don’t also restrict hate speech. Why, for example,
did the Supreme Court on Monday rule that the trade-
At the same time, our regime of free speech protects
mark office cannot reject “disparaging” applications – the powerful and popular. Many city governments, for
like a request from an Oregon band to trademark “the instance, have banned panhandling at the behest of
Slants” as in Asian “slant
their business communities.
People can’t falsely yell fire in a theater but The legal justification is that
The typical answer is
can yell the N-word at a person of color.
the targets of begging (com-
that judges must balance
muters, tourists, and con-
benefits and harms. If judges
sumers) have important and
are asked to compare the harm of restricting speech-a legitimate purposes for being in public: to get to work or
cherished core constitutional value-to the harm of to go shopping. The law therefore protects them from
hurt feelings, judges will rightly choose to protect free aggressive requests for money.
expression. But perhaps it’s nonsense to characterize
Consider also the protections afforded to soldiers’
the nature of the harm as nothing more than an emo-
families in the case of Westboro Baptist anti-gay demon-
tional scratch; that’s a reflection of the deep inequali- strations. When the Supreme Court in 2011 upheld that
ties in our society, and one that demonstrates a church’s right to stage offensive protests at veterans’
profound misunderstanding of how hate speech affects funerals, Congress passed the Honoring America’s
Veterans’ Act, which prohibits any protests 300 to 500 feet
its targets.
206 CHAPTER 6 Arguing a Position
associated with eating disorders.
strategies. Exposure to racial slurs also diminishes academic
post-traumatic stress disorder, and requires complex coping
performance. Women subjected to sexualized speech may
develop a phenomenon of “self-objectification,” which is
These negative physical and mental health
outcomeswhich embody the historical roots of race
“just speech.” Hate speech is doing something. It results
in tangible harms that are serious in and of themselves
and that collectively amount to the harm of subordina
tion. The harm of perpetuating discrimination. The
and gender oppression – mean that hate speech is not
Kaster/AP Images
Members of the Westboro Baptist Church picket in front of the
Supreme Court in Washington on October 6, 2010.
around such funerals. (The statute made no mention of
protecting LGBTQ funeral attendees from hate speech,
just soldiers’ families.)
So soldiers’ families, shoppers and workers are pro-
tected from troubling speech. People of color, women
walking down public streets or just living in their dorm
on a college campus are not. The only way to justify this
disparity is to argue that commuters asked for money on
the way to work experience a tangible harm, while
women catcalled and worse on the way to work do
not–as if being the target of a request for change is
worse than being racially disparaged by a stranger.
In fact, empirical data suggest that frequent verbal
harassment can lead to various negative conse-
quences. Racist hate speech has been linked to cigarette
smoking, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and
harm of creating inequality.
Instead of characterizing racist and sexist hate
speech as “just speech,” courts and legislatures need to
account for this research and, perhaps, allow the restric-
tion of hate speech as do all of the other economically
advanced democracies in the world.
Many readers will find this line of thinking repel-
lent. They will insist that protecting hate speech is con-
sistent with and even central to our founding principles.
They will argue that regulating hate speech would
amount to a serious break from our tradition. They will
trivialize the harms that social science research undeni-
ably associates with being the target of hate speech, and
call people seeking recognition of these affronts
But these free-speech absolutists must at least
acknowledge two facts. First, the right to speak already
is far from absolute. Second, they are asking disadvan-
taged members of our society to shoulder a heavy bur-
den with serious consequences. Because we are “free” to
groups suffer.
be hateful, members of traditionally marginalized
(REFLECT] Make connections: Handling hate speech.
As a legal scholar, Nielsen’s focus is on the law and court decisions. But as a sociol-
ogist, she’s also concerned about “the harms that social science research undeniably
and the debate surrounding hate and harassing speech, think about your own expe-
associates with being the target of hate speech” (par. 10). To reflect on her argument
rience and observation. Your instructor may ask you to post your thoughts
on a class
Nielsen The Case for Restricting Hate Speech
Guide to Writing
A Writer at Work
to get started:
discussion board or to discuss them with other students in class. Use these questions
. Think of an example of hate or harassing speech you have experienced person-
ally, seen, or read about. How widespread or serious a problem does hate speech
seem to be in your community, workplace, or school?
How convincing do you find Nielsen’s argument that hate speech should be
restricted because it does harm to its victims? If you have witnessed or experi-
enced hate speech, what harm do you think it did?
Use the basic features.
Examples and anecdotes can be especially effective as evidence because they often
appeal to readers’ values and feelings. Jessica Statsky, for instance, relates an anecdote
about a seven-year-old Peewee Football player who made himself vomit to avoid play-
ing. This anecdote delivers the message powerfully, although it runs the risk of being
perceived by readers as exaggerated or emotionally manipulative. Writers can also
use examples to bring home their claims, making them more concrete, graphic, and
convincing, as Statsky does when she tells of “a brawl among seventy-five parents
following a Peewee Football game” (par. 11). Because examples are isolated instances,
however, they do not necessarily prove the general rule. To get around this, Statsky
introduces this example as one of many “horror stories” to suggest that it is not all
that unusual, but a fairly typical incident that should be taken seriously as evidence
to support her position.
Write a paragraph analyzing and evaluating Nielsen’s use of examples:
1 Reread paragraphs 3-6, highlighting the examples of hate speech. Which examples
are protected, and which are unprotected? What does the photo of the Westboro
Baptist Church protest contribute to your understanding of the disparity between
protected and unprotected speech?
2 Look closely at paragraphs 7-8. How do the examples in the preceding paragraphs
support Nielsen’s argument that “hate speech is not just speech'” (par. 8)?
Consider whether you are persuaded by Nielsen’s examples. What additional evidence
(if any) would you need to be persuaded to adopt her position?
Representing opposing points of view fairly and accurately enhances the writer’s
Writers of position essays try to anticipate other widely held positions on the issue.
credibility (or ethos) and also strengthens the argument. When readers holding

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