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Former Journalist Advocates Changes to the First Amendment

The former editor of “Time” wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post Tuesday making an argument for why the First Amendment needs to be changed to include a hate speech law.

Richard Stengel, also a former Obama State Department staffer and current MSNBC commentator, was the managing editor for Time Magazine from 2006 to 2013. He began his op-ed by noting that he sees the First Amendment as an “outlier” when comparing America to other countries.

Even the most sophisticated Arab diplomats that I dealt with did not understand why the First Amendment allows someone to burn a Koran. Why, they asked me, would you ever want to protect that?

It’s a fair question. Yes, the First Amendment protects the ‘thought that we hate,’ but it should not protect hateful speech that can cause violence by one group against another. In an age when everyone has a megaphone, that seems like a design flaw.

The op-ed continues on to note that the First Amendment protects both “good guys” and bad people, such as the Russian’s who spread misinformation during the 2016 election. Stengel also wrote that “Domestic terrorists” such as the El Paso shooter “were consumers of hate speech,” using this as an argument for developing a hate speech law. The op-ed adds that “speech doesn’t pull the trigger,” but suggests that “hateful speech creates a climate where such acts are more likely.”

“Hate speech has a less violent, but nearly as damaging, impact in another way: It diminishes tolerance,” Stengel’s op-ed reads. “It enables discrimination. Isn’t that, by definition, speech that undermines the values that the First Amendment was designed to protect: fairness, due process, equality before the law? Why shouldn’t the states experiment with their own version of hate speech statutes to penalize speech that deliberately insults people based on religion, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation?”

This op-ed comes as more Americans are in favor of making hate speech illegal, according to a poll published Oct. 23 by the Campaign For Free Speech. The poll found that 51% of Americans are in favor of re-writing the First Amendment, and 48% believe hate speech should be illegal.

The Washington Post and Richard Stengel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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