“Hate speech is excluded from protection,” CNN anchor Chris Cuomo tweeted last year, echoing a dangerously common misconception. “Hate speech isn’t free speech,” people say, assuming they have a right not to hear whatever they consider hateful language and ideas. Government officials sometimes share this view: The Mayor of West Hollywood confirmed to Eugene Volokh that she would not issue a special events permit for a Donald Trump rally so long as he trafficked in hate, contrary to the “values and ideals” of the West Hollywood community
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But you don’t have to indulge in allegedly hateful speech to violate questionable local laws: In Washington D.C., an employer who fails to call a transgender employee by the employee’s preferred pronouns, including “ze,” “zir,” or “they,” may be liable for harassment, as Hans Bader explains. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has issued similar mandates, applying broadly to employers, landlords and businesses, meaning that customers and tenants, as well as employees, have a “human right” to regulate ordinary speech used in ordinary commercial transactions.
“(P)eople can basically force us — on pain of massive legal liability — to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with that term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie,” Volokh laments. “We have to use the person’s ‘preferred … pronoun and title,’ whatever those preferences might be. Some people could say they prefer ‘glugga’ just as well as saying ‘ze’.”