Free Speech vs. Hate Speech

What does freedom of speech mean and what responsibilities come with that freedom? The Civic Lab recently explored resources and information in a discussion of free speech vs. hate speech.

Conversation Questions

  1. What is free speech?
  2. What is hate speech?
  3. What laws do we have in place to uphold freedom of speech?

Key Definitions (from Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Free speech – speech that is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; also: the right to such speech

Hate speech – speech expressing hatred of a particular group of people

For more information on the differences between free speech and hate speech, use the resources below:


So To Speak: The Free Speech Podcast – Glenn Greenwald On “Defending My Enemy” FIRE is an organization whose mission is to defend and sustain individual rights at American colleges and universities. In this episode of their podcast, So to Speak, journalist Glenn Greenwald discusses his experiences as a gay, Jewish man defending the rights of neo-Nazis while practicing law in the mid-1990s, when he memorably represented white supremacist Matthew Hale.


What Does Free Speech Mean? – The U.S. Supreme Court has often struggled to determine exactly what constitutes freedom of speech. This site provides examples of both direct (words) and symbolic (actions) that the Court has decided fall under First Amendment protections (or not).

How Federal Law Draws a Line Between Free Speech and Hate Crimes – Brief, general overview of how federal law establishes a line between protected speech and a hate crime, with links to historic and more recent high-profile cases regarding freedom of speech.


University of Oxford’s Free Speech Debate Video Series: The Future of Free Speech – Human rights lawyer, activist, and Holocaust survivor Aryeh Neier discusses the future of defending free speech in various circumstances. Neier once famously led the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the 1970s as they supported a neo-Nazi group’s efforts to march in Skokie in the case National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie.

MTV News Decoded: Is PC Culture Anti-Free Speech? – MTV News journalist Franchesca Ramsey gives a rundown of the debate around “PC Culture,” and what speaking out against discrimination and hate means in today’s discourse.


ProPublica: Documenting Hate – ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom focused upon investigative journalism, is creating an ongoing database of reported hate crimes and bias incidents in the United States. This rigorous look at hate crimes in America combines data analysis and storytelling.