J.K. Rowling isn't interested in silencing Donald Trump.
"His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine," Rowling said Monday night at the 2016 PEN Literary Award Gala, making a plea for tolerance.
Rowling, whose famed Harry Potter series has gained the distinct honor of being on several banned book lists, staked her claim for the freedom of expression — especially when that means protecting her right to openly rebuke Trump:
The tides of populism and nationalism currently sweeping many developed countries have been accompanied by demands that unwelcome or inconvenient voices be removed from public discourse. Mainstream media has become a term of abuse in some quarters. It seems that unless a commentator or television channel or newspaper reflects exactly the complainers' worldview, it must be guilty of bias or corruption.
Intolerance of alternative viewpoints is spreading to places that make me, a moderate and a liberal, most uncomfortable. Only last year we saw an online petition to ban Donald Trump from entry into the UK. It garnered half a million signatures. Now, I find almost everything that Mr. Trump says objectionable. I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there.
His freedom to speak protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine. Unless we take that absolute position without caveats or apologies, we have set foot upon a road with only one destination.
If my offended feelings can constitute a travel ban on Donald Trump, I have no moral grounds on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the right for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes. If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on the grounds that they have offended you, you have crossed a line to stand along tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification.
Rowling highlights a longstanding American debate over hate speech
The online poll Rowling refers to, calling to ban Trump from entering the United Kingdom for "hate speech," gained national popularity last year after Trump proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the United States. The citizens poll even prompted three hours of vigorous debate in British Parliament over the idea.
While the poll was the start of a waterfall of international ridicule toward American politics — one that has only intensified since Trump was named the presumptive Republican nominee — its attempt to take a legal stand against "hate speech" hits a long-contested debate in American politics: The First Amendment does not provide an exemption for hate speech.
UCLA Law School professor Eugene Volokh explains for the Washington Post:
To be sure, there are some kinds of speech that are unprotected by the First Amendment. But those narrow exceptions have nothing to do with "hate speech" in any conventionally used sense of the term. For instance, there is an exception for "fighting words" — face-to-face personal insults addressed to a specific person, of the sort that are likely to start an immediate fight. But this exception isn’t limited to racial or religious insults, nor does it cover all racially or religiously offensive statements.
Rowling, who herself has been the target of hateful speech, seemingly supports this distinction.
"My critics are at liberty to claim that I’m trying to convert children to Satanism. And I am free to explain human nature and morality. Or to say, 'You’re an idiot,' depending on which side of the bed I got out of that day," Rowling said.