The editors of National Review (where I'm a contributor) warned last week that free speech rights are threatened by the pernicious notion that businesses should not enjoy First Amendment protections. The threat is real, but altering the Constitution like that is still a lot of work. Activists have an easier way to suppress views they don’t like: Just call those views “hate.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) runs a blog titled “Hatewatch: Keeping an Eye on the Radical Right.” It has a daily feature called Hatewatch Headlines, which is dedicated to "highlighting the best stories around the web on hate and extremism.”
On the same day as the NR editorial, Hatewatch Headlines offered a revealing selection. Amidst links to articles about secret KKK members, apologies for slavery, and anti-government terrorism, the SPLC listed a piece from the Washington Post titled: “Forget Obamacare. Common Core is the Republicans’ new big enemy.”
Common Core is the name for a set of K-12 education standards that supporters hope will become de facto national standards. (See here for my perspective.) Needless to say, what opposition to these standards has to do with Klansmen and terrorists is not clear. But the SPLC is happy to link any conservative cause to "hate." That shuts down debate without any need for direct censorship.
The Post article itself is a lazy attack on Common Core opponents, with the usual charge that opponents are against the standards simply because the president is for them. It’s a strange accusation, given that a number of liberal groups have stated their opposition as well. Nevertheless, Republican opponents are portrayed as extreme in the Post article, and the SPLC ups the ante by surrounding the link with variants of the word “hate.”
If even the most innocuous political position—say, preferring that school standards not be uniform nationwide—can be characterized in the media as hate and extremism, then weakening the First Amendment will not be necessary to control the discourse.