*This is an edited and expanded version of my "Free Hate Speech" topic, which is why they're similar in parts. I'm going to post it on my regular blog, not affiliated with Ex-C. Your comments are appreciated!
**Much thanks to RealityCheck for editing suggestions.
As concern for the humane treatment of LGBT individuals grows in modern Western society, freedom of speech and expression are often perceived to conflict with sensitivity toward this group of people. On June 12, the deadliest mass shooting in American history took 49 lives and wounded 53 other victims in a gay bar, yet has opened the door to a discussion about the appropriate response to people who celebrate national tragedies. Pastor Steven L. Anderson posted a video to YouTube saying that it least it was "sodomites" and "pedophiles" who died. He said that he does not support civilian killing of gay people because it is against the law, but that they should be executed by the government "through the proper channels." YouTube has removed Anderson's video for violating its policy against hate speech.
Here is YouTube's "Hate Speech" policy: https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/2801964?hl=en&ref_topic=2803176 Notice that it claims YouTube supports freedom of speech, including generally disliked opinions, but immediately states that "hate speech" is not allowed. The Constitution prohibits the government from restricting freedom of speech, except when that speech directly threatens others or poses a threat to their safety, i.e., is a "clear and present danger." Legally, YouTube is entitled to make and enforce its own policies, but by removing videos based on their ideas, it violates the principle of allowing freedom of expression. Preaching the murder of gay people was once acceptable in American culture, while advocating for sexual equality was seen as disgraceful. Attacking words, not actions, sets a precedent for prosecuting thought crimes and whatever we subjectively find harmful.
The argument can be made that Anderson poses a danger by supporting violence against gays, that homophobic people may be incited by his vitriolic comments to begin carrying out murders as the Orlando shooter did. It is true that this may happen, but nevertheless, Anderson is not responsible for others' actions, and idly claiming that certain people should be killed is not equivalent to actively planning and executing the killings.
Prejudice doesn't need censorship to be brought down; in a rational society, a bigot will be reduced to a small, sad pile of bitterness when the majority of people agree that his opinion doesn't merit consideration. The Westboro Baptist Church is a prime example: When they protested American soldiers' funerals and shouted their signature line, "God hates fags," they advertised themselves as hateful and made their name synonymous with everything that decent people despise. By deleting Anderson's video, YouTube is protecting him from himself.
Despite its malevolent origin, intolerance serves as a warning. When we know which people want to harm us, we know who is dangerous. We need to stay alert to what is happening around us, not shut our eyes and plug our ears and then wonder what went wrong when people end up dead. If we squander every chance to prepare ourselves for an attack, we will be to blame when we never saw it coming.
Silencing Anderson will not make him stop having his opinion. It won't change the minds of people who think like he does or of people who actually plan to kill gays. But it will make him and others feel they are being persecuted, cause them to become even more determined to hang on to their bigoted beliefs, and feed on each other's sense of victimization. Furthermore, trying to destroy expression of an opinion shows fear of that person's belief. Are we going to respond to evil people by not only making them unite, but by showing them we fear them? That is how people like Anderson and the Orlando shooter gain control.
But the fundamental reason not to deny an individual's right to expression is that it undermines the freedom that is central to our society. When someone shows meanness, rather than muzzling him, we should respond with the opposite of his actions. Donate blood, volunteer at a shelter for gay homeless children, even write a letter to Steven Anderson expressing hope that he changes his mind, rather than returning the contempt that he spews. For a nation that values each person's autonomy, the only response to liberty being taken away is to liberate others.
In the aftermath of one of America's worst terror attacks, constraint is an ally of violence. We need to have faith that compassion, not censorship, can beat hatred.