The United States thanks the Secretary-General for his leadership on this Strategy and Plan of Action. The United States strongly agrees that the Plan of Action should not endorse limitations on freedom of speech, and that more speech, not less, is needed. In response to the unique challenges of the digital age, some have called for curbs on certain kinds of speech. This is not what the international community envisioned when it came together to endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the United States, our experience has taught us that speech restrictions do not work. Instead, they constrain democratic engagement, diminish respect for human dignity, and stifle change and social advancement. Banning so-called “offensive” speech has often served to protect those interested solely in maintaining the status quo or their own political preferences.
The United States’ Constitution provides some of the broadest protections for speech in the world. These protections evolved from a long struggle for freedom of expression. We have learned that democracy and prosperity depend on the free exchange of ideas and the ability to dissent, and that the best way to combat intolerant ideas is to let them fall of their own weight when challenged by well-reasoned counter arguments.
Our strong belief in freedom of expression does not mean that we sit idly by as individuals and groups seek to spread toxic expressions of hatred. We are committed to engaging affected communities, providing conflict resolution services, and enhancing dialogue. And we also do not sit idly by when hateful expression transforms into acts of discrimination or violence. In the United States, robust civil rights laws and judicial infrastructure ensure that hate crimes will be deterred and punished.
As noted in the guiding principles for the UN Plan of Action on Hate Speech, governments, the private sector, and civil society all have important roles to play. We should all speak out against hate speech and stand up for the ideals to which we have all committed. As stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” It is in this spirit of brotherhood that we should all now act.