Why hateful speech matters: An open letter to Jamie Allard

Dear Assemblywoman Allard,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Jewish community in Alaska. I am so proud to be both an Alaskan and American, and the Jewish community has thrived in the United States of America because of the benefits of democracy. I see our Constitution as a sacred document that lets me practice the religion I freely choose. With these protected rights, including free speech and the right to gather, I feel secure that I can be American and Jewish.

However, there are times when I do not feel secure. As the rabbi of the biggest and oldest Jewish community in Alaska, I have seen firsthand where hateful speech can lead. While much of this speech is protected under the First Amendment, I feel it is important that our leaders, and those of us who are privileged with a wide audience, work hard to ensure that speech is not used to repress or harm others.

We may have the right to say certain things, but that does not mean we should say them, endorse them or allow them to be said without pointing out how harmful they can be. Much too often, hateful speech, when left to fester, leads to hateful action. But even when these words do not result in criminal behavior, they do impact the quality of life and ability to prosper of those who are being marginalized.

I have read your recent remarks on Twitter, and I ask you to be more considerate of our community, which includes many members who have had parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents perish in the Holocaust. These deaths still haunt every Jewish community around the world. It continues to be a painful process to reconcile what happened to our family members who were murdered by Nazi Germany during this time.

And it is even more so as we are deeply pained to see Nazi doctrine, and other hateful speech, propagating in our country. It reminds us of the hate that led to the 6 million men, women, and children who were murdered for practicing their religion. And it makes us fearful of it happening again.

I am hopeful that all of us can find a middle ground. The right to free speech and expectation of civility do not have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, I feel it is our obligation to find that space where both are honored and respected as we continue forming a more perfect union.


Thank you for your time and consideration.


Rabbi Abram Goodstein

Rabbi Abram Goodstein serves as rabbi for the Congregation Beth Sholom in Anchorage.

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