Post Charlottesville: Hate speech, free speech is focus of panel discussion November 13


By Linda Laderman
Legal News

In response to the white supremacist-led protests that took place in Charlottesville, Va., last August, a group of educators, attorneys and social justice activists are coming together on Nov. 13 to discuss “How Should People of Conscience Deal with Hate Speech in the Era of Trump?”

Sponsored by the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and moderated by Wayne State Law Professor Peter Hammer, the panel discussion is set for Monday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. at Marygrove College in Detroit.

“This is the brainchild of the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights and in response to the serious issues we’re facing as a country,” said Hammer, who serves as the director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at WSU Law School. “There’s no doubt that this is also very much in response to what happened in Charlottesville.”

Whether hate speech is a protected form of expression under the First Amendment, Hammer said, “The mere fact that it is legal does not mean that people of conscience can’t imagine creative strategies to counter those types of speech.”

In Hammer’s view, the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees give Americans the opportunity to find avenues to counter balance speech that while protected, might still be hate-filled.

“I think the greater challenge to how we behave as human beings and as citizens is not just how we respond to protests or an outbreak of hate speech, but how we live everyday of our lives and the values we espouse,” Hammer said. “Ideally those are values that embrace notions of creating senses of belonging and inclusion as opposed to senses of exclusion and othering.”

Hammer said he is hopeful that Monday’s program will help to foster further insights around the issues that stem from hate speech and encourage those who want to combat hate speech to use non-violent resistance.

“The best response to hate speech is to be completely non-confrontational,” Hammer said. “Let it burn itself out. Often times the worst thing is to stimulate that heat by direct confrontation. Once you cede that ground, you become just like the forces you are fighting. We have to embrace the values embedded in our First Amendment and let people speak no matter how awful you think that is, but also have counter programming all year long not just simply around particular events where repugnant individuals control the agenda.”

Serving as panelists on Monday will be Julie Hurwitz, civil rights attorney, vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and founding partner of Goodman Hurwitz & James; Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU Michigan; and Asha Noor, organizer of the “Take on Hate” campaign, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Dearborn.

Noor, who is a fellow at Wayne State University’s Law School and Programming and Outreach Director for Safe Spaces of CAIR, Michigan, said she plans to use Monday’s forum to address the impact of hate speech on the Muslim community and on the community at large, and to correlate that impact with the rise in hate crimes around the country.

“We have statistics showing that just in the last half of the year compared to the first half of the year, there’s been a 91 percent increase in anti-Muslim violence,” Noor said, adding that the spike in religiously motivated violence has prompted her to examine the surrounding issues from a safety perspective.

“My biggest concerns ultimately are around safety and how this culture of hate and violence permanently impacts people’s lives and what it will take to transform the attitudes and the culture we’re living in,” Noor said. “The increase in attacks on religious institutions, primarily on mosques and synagogues, drive people to become more insular, because of fear of being out in the community.”

Noor said it is critical to work to change public discourse and narrative around violence nationally, but also essential “for those who practice faith to continue to go to their places of worship.”

“We have a violence problem in America and it is not just exclusive to places of worship. We see the increase in mass shootings, yet we don’t want to have people living in fear,” Noor said. “We are going to have to have some broader discussions around the culture of violence in this country and what it looks like to transform that, broadly speaking, but at the same time we want people to be able to live their lives freely.”