We all remember the old saying, sticks, and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me. In the 21st Century words are now a lethal weapon. Criminal cases across America have been upgraded from manslaughter to murder and vice versa over words stated before or after physical fights. Lives have been lost with cruelly intended words. Businesses lose millions through oral and verbal contracts. Yet, words are still merely freedom of speech. The solution to interpretations of freedom of speech should be enacted through federalism.
As the summer rolls in across America, there will be a spike in shootings. As people drink in public in large crowds for concerts and festivals there are bound to be words exchanged that may not be so delicate. In many places, these words will result in violence. Are these words the impetus for the violence or the freedom of speech? The Supreme Court has consistently decided that words of instigation and offense are merely the use of freedom of speech. Yet, in a courtroom, these words have been deemed premeditation. If a person says, “I’ll kill you” and then gets into a physical fight with you and actually kills you then that was premeditated. I’ll kill you or I’d like to kill you rolls out of many people’s mouths at various times. Speaking in frustration does not necessarily make a person a stated killer. On the other hand, what if the other person kills the verbal attacker? Is it self-defense?
In Denver, fighting words provoking a violent response were made illegal until a judge struck down the law. The judge, similar to the SCOTUS, stated that words are merely freedom of speech no matter how offensive or provocative they may be. People’s actions are an actual crime. Yet, Michelle Carter received a manslaughter conviction for texting her boyfriend to commit suicide in which he did. Then there’s Grace’s Law in Maryland which criminalizes cyber bullying-again all words. There’s a fine line between words and actions taken due to words. Cult followers are rarely criminalized for their actions if they are not in the upper echelons of the cult. The leaders of the cult-which usually begin their offenses by using words to lure others, take the blame so to speak.
Words are as difficult to express legally in oral and verbal contracts. In business, if words are not carefully written and notarized as a contractual agreement, millions are lost by business partners every year. Why? Words don’t mean much. Trump’s executive order forcing colleges and universities to allow all freedom of speech even if it can be deemed similar to hate speech was disliked by the media and citizens. Yet, there are many ways hate speech can be interpreted. That’s the key.
As society evolves so must our laws including the words that bind them. It’s the interpretation of the freedom of speech that creates a criminal act. Since America is regionally cultural, individual states and local municipalities can create technical laws related to criminalizing words. Citizens can collaborate with politicians to place guidelines on cyberbullying, fighting words and hate speech for their direct communities. Federalism tends to suffice the needs of citizens directly. The local laws are easier to pass than a Congressional quagmire through ballot initiatives as well. It’s cheaper and easier to place an initiative on a local ballot that normally receives higher voting than national or even state initiatives. If Congress isn’t the answer to spoken violence, offenses or crimes then it’s time to make it your local issue.