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Monday •  November 15, 2021

“Free Speech Ain’t Hate Speech”…Until It Is, and Hate Speech Has No Place in Howard County 

By Steven Keller


Parent voices matter….but hate speech should never be tolerated.  Two weeks ago, HoCo Watchdogs reported on a concerning situation regarding the unprecedented announcement by representatives of the Howard County Educations Associations (HCEA) — the local HCPSS teacher/staff union — to protest what appeared to be a benign, community-organized public forum intending to highlight the role of parents’ voices in public education & discussing select niche controversial school issues, including “Critical Race Theory-inspired” curriculum and the age-appropriateness of content within books provided by HCPSS libraries.


The HCEA’s involvement stands as controversial, particularly regarding who within the organization authored the provocative, highly partisan original protest announcement and whether or not HCEA leadership vetted and approved it. However, despite the controversy of the HCEA’s announced-then-withdrawn plans to protest this community forum, the event itself ultimately included an unfortunate and extremely troubling moment that cannot be left unaddressed.


After being cancelled by its original venue, the sponsoring organization, “We The People 2″, did successfully hold the forum in a local warehouse in Elkridge, MD on its originally-scheduled date.  The venue itself was decorated with patriotic & themed signs that included motivational & well-intentioned statements such as “Walking Away From Hatred”, “Stop Violating Civil Rights”, “Walking Away From Racism” and “Free Speech Ain’t Hate Speech”.

For the majority of its ~2 hour session, the event was focused on respectful, oftentimes pointed and politically charged coverage of the intended issues, albeit with a relatively one-sided four-member panel of speakers and a noticeable absence of the inclusion of any opposing views on the issues discussed.  However, in an extremely troubling and ironic moment for this now publicly-scrutinized event, all rational limits pertaining to free speech were pushed past the brink by one of the featured panelists, described as an “Educator and Concerned Parent” from Baltimore City. 


The opening lines for this panelist’s introductory remarks & prayer, partially featured during Fox45’s local news coverage of the event, could not have been more offensive and counter-productive to the intended theme of the event.  The full introductory remarks begin just a little after the 3 minute 30 second mark of the publicly available complete recording of the forum:


“We are doing God’s work….because Marxism, and homosexuality, and this transgenderism…….it’s the devil. And we must fight to protect the children because they are our future. So we’re doing God’s work….Amen?”

Hate speech is generally defined as “any form of expression through which speakers intend to vilify, humiliate, or incite hatred against a group or a class of persons on the basis of race, religion, skin color sexual identity, gender identity, ethnicity, disability, or national origin”

By this definition, the statement quoted above from these introductory remarks was clear-cut hate speech against LGBTQ+ members of society and deserves to be firmly condemned by those involved in organizing, sponsoring and participating in this event.  Absent direct disavowals of this kind, at the very least there should be effort taken to exclude this hate speech from the publicly-available recording of the event.


To be clear: the preliminary remarks & prayer that this speaker delivered were strictly his own views and cannot be assumed to be supported by any of the hosting or sponsoring organizations, any of the other speakers at the event, or any of the audience members who did not chime in supportively.  However, when the author of this HoCo Watchdogs post shared these personal concerns with the main hosting organization, the response received was that the organization sincerely respects and value everyone’s first amendment rights, that they would gladly assist with apprising the panelist of the concerns shared, and that they would connect anyone troubled by these remarks directly with the speaker.  On a similar note, another local political organization that has been involved heavily in sharing news about the event across social media gave assurances that this speaker’s remarks were an aberration, not a norm, but did not address the fact that the event recording that this organization continued to publicly share still contained this hate speech segment.


Protection of speech, even hate speech, under the First Amendment is one thing, but there is no need to grant it a perpetual public platform.  The continued inclusion of this speech in the event’s publicly-available recording, even after concerns were brought to the hosting & sponsoring organizations’ attention, is deeply troubling and counterproductive to the originally-advertised intent of the forum.  It is akin to opening an otherwise fully digestible and satisfactory Prix Fixe menu with a poison-laced appetizer, then continuing to serve the same menu even after the restaurant discovered the dangers of its appetizer.  Actively removing this offensive section would be a convincing first step towards demonstrating that the hosting organization recognizes the harm of this hate speech & actively chooses to not condone it or facilitate its propagation any further.


As of six days after the conclusion of the event, the publicly available recording still contains the hate speech delivered by this invited speaker and no organizations or individuals associated with hosting, sponsoring or supporting the event have publicly addressed the situation.


In recent years, Howard County parents from across the political spectrum have raised legitimate, nuanced concerns related to the specific issues discussed during this forum, including K-12 curriculum inspired by the social/political ideologies derived from Critical Race Theory and the age appropriateness of school library-provided books.  If parent voices do indeed matter, then serious discussions & policy-driven progress needs to be made towards constructive, unifying solutions to these concerns.  However, holding a forum where hate speech is tacitly condoned in the moment and then actively shared afterwards in a publicly-available recording is absolutely not the way that this can successfully happen.


Going forward, it is imperative that future Howard County-based forums & discussions on these matters are maintained as openly, respectfully and inclusively as possible.  For meaningful progress to be made, open-minded organizations on across the political spectrum must find whatever common ground they can on these issues to respectfully work towards unified progress.  Efforts must be made by reasonable members of both sides of these “wedge” political issues to ensure that these issues do not divide the local populace to the point where all sides end up losing in common, unexpected ways to the surrounding issue-ambivalent local “monied interests”. As recently stated in a warning by community blogger & activist Hiruy Hadgu,


“There are external forces at play that prey on our fears and prejudices to create the perfect storm to distract us from the exploitation of resources.”


“These divisions are artificial and they are set-pieces by the political establishment while they make terrible land-use and zoning decisions.”


“We as community residents have choices to congregate on several common interests, but the main issue that intersects ALL our interests is money. Specifically, the budget….”


“Instead of picking candidates who rely on stoking culture wars to get elected, if we elect politicians who would treat the sacred issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status responsibly, we can begin to have responsible conversation that do not end with insults. But we have to first focus on land-use and zoning AKA, THE MONEY.”


The theme for this forum was that “parent voices matter” in public education.  Parent voices do indeed matter and should be respected and used to guide education policy-making to the greatest extent possible. However, the reality is that money matters even more in education when it comes to local & national policy-makers. 


In present-day Howard County, land-use and zoning decisions impact a sizable amount of the local budget — particularly the school system budget — in a variety direct & indirect ways.  In recent years, it is becoming more and more common for certain factions of political parties and special interest entities at both local & national levels to exploit certain niche issues, particularly local school issues, and uplift & encourage the most extreme viewpoints in order divide “all sides” of the local populace and distract local residents from the entities’ narrowly-focused, self-serving goals such as the  “ownership and monopoly-like control of small cities [such as Columbia, MD]”.  In this way, these political & special interest entities slyly convince key policy-makers across the political spectrum to ignore the many nuanced legitimate concerns & sensible perspectives of the “reasonable middle” majority across the county (and country) and to pass policies that are ultimately counter to the long-term public good. 


For parents to truly have a meaningful, powerful voice in maintaining & improving their students’ education quality and stability, reasonable members across the political spectrum must firmly reject extreme, unreasonable and hateful viewpoints from their own sides of each local issue (such as the hate speech delivered at this local forum), must recognize the overarching threat  and counter the devious tactics of divisive political & special interest groups, and must find common ground on the most important local issues and help to elect responsible, politically moderate public representatives who will reject significant funding influences from special interest groups and bring focused, reasonable, forward-thinking & unifying solutions to local school, land use & zoning issues.

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