Your View: The problem with ‘hate-free zones’

Your View: The problem with ‘hate-free zones’

By Kelly M. Ferguson, Alexandria (File photo)

To the editor:
As a citizen of Alexandria who is profoundly concerned about some of the nativist, protectionist, xenophobic rhetoric that has come into fashion during this election season, I read with equal concern the recent statement of the mayor and city council declaring our city to be a “hate-free zone” (“Local immigrant community braces for Trump presidency,” November 24).

While I applaud our city leadership’s affirmed commitment to protecting every citizen’s right to equal protection under the Virginia and U.S. constitutions, I would submit that the further denunciation of “hate speech, hate crimes, harassment, racial bias, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant activity and harmful bias and discrimination in all forms” is an inappropriate exercise of the city government’s authority and sets the stage to violate the very rights to equal protection that the city purports to uphold in the same statement.

The uncomfortable fact is, my fellow Alexandrian has the same right to be anti-Semitic and to proclaim such views in public as I do to publicly decry his anti-Semitism and donate to the Anti-Defamation League.

Free speech is not simply allowed when it is popular, appealing, positive speech. Hateful views deserve the same protection as non-hateful ones. After all, who is the arbiter of what hate is?

Furthermore, if ideas that the majority of Alexandrians find abhorrent are not allowed in the public square, what will be the result? Will the holder of those offensive ideas be convinced by being silenced?

Or will the offending per- son simply be bolstered in the sense of isolation and persecution that often lends to this way of thinking in the first place, and driven underground to find fellow travelers who think as he or she does?
Finally, the mayor and council’s statement includes a perfunctory name-check of the First Amendment “freedom of speech,” but makes a mockery of that very right by including in the same sentence a right to “freedom from fear.”

I encourage my fellow citizens to think carefully about what the city government, or any government, might feel empowered to do in the name of protecting its citizens from fear, which is a natural human impulse. I am, in fact, profoundly afraid of the prospect of any man or woman having that much power over how I live, work, play and freely associate with others.

I stand proudly with city officials in their commitment to uphold everyone’s constitutional rights, but I encourage them to reconsider the aspects of their statement that hint at the censoring of speech and the curtailing of real, tangible, God-given human rights.