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Should the First Amendment Protect Hateful, Offensive, and Blasphemous Speech

March 30, 2020

In Staten Island, N.Y., a local minister paid for two public billboards which used Bible quotes to label homosexuality as sinful and an abomination in the eyes of God. The signs were soon taken down, though, and replaced by public service advertisements. The minister charges that his freedom of expression under the First Amendment was violated.

Increasingly, we see cases where competing religious groups turn to the same (or different) “God” and set of doctrinal scriptures to justify or oppose their own particular teachings on issues such as homosexuality, abortion, environmental policy or capitol punishment. “Who speaks for ‘God’?” we might ask. With the year 2000 election already taking combining the worst aspects of political campaigning with tent-meeting revivalism, candidates are busy courting “the religious vote” in search of support, citing their religious faith as a credential for public office, and grabbing every speaking opportunity at the pulpit. Religious congregations are happy to oblige, and may be coming close to violating election law.

We also see increasing pressure to have government intervene to prevent speech which is considered “hateful,” “obscene,” or offensive to a particular ethnic, sexual or religious group. The Staten Island controversy is a case in point. Although none of the groups opposed to the billboard messages have yet called for government censorship, one official warned that the signs could lead to violence. Should they be banned?

Should all forms of speech be protected under the First Amendment?

Should exceptions be made for speech which is “offensive” to a particular group such as a sexual minority, ethnic group or religion?

And who decides? If we ban the billboard messages which quote from Leviticus, should we then permit the display of other parts of the Bible -- such as the Ten Commandments -- to be posted in public?

This Poll is now closed, but you can still check the results. Visit often so you can take part in all our opinion polls.

For further information in this story, visit Flash Line. You can also read Taking The First: Free Speech and its Discontents, an On Target opinion column on this subject.

We have the special one-hour live Atheist Viewpoint, which aired on Staten Island Cable on March 31, 2020. The episode featured audience call-ins on this topic. Click on one of the links below:

Part 1: Part 2:
View Final Results
Read selected readers’ comments
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