Hate Speech

I said yesterday that there was some disagreement about hate speech and that I would offer my thoughts. The issue came up with regards to principle four of the Free Speech Debate project.

We speak openly and with civility about all kinds of human difference.

Jeremy Waldron expressed his support for legislation limiting hate speech on the grounds that it is harmful to people in vulnerable groups by lowering their status in the eyes of the public, creating a poisonous atmosphere and intimidating them. I disagree and think there is no place for laws that prevent hate speech, only for laws that are designed to emphasise reason and protect against calls for harm.

Hate speech is not an attractive feature of human discourse but it is something we need to learn to live with in order to preserve free speech. People do feel hatred of certain other people and they should legitimately be allowed to express those feelings, whether we like what they have to say or not, as long as are not violating any other rights. I was glad when Supreme Court of America echoed that to declare that offensive speech is still protected speech.

Anti-gay hate speech

We can look at the image that was in Jeremy Waldron’s piece (included here on the left) to see what we might take as hate speech. The two bottom signs are obscured so I will only look at the two top ones.

“Fags doom nations.” To me it is fine to express your opinion like that. However, I also believe that our opinions must be based on evidence and reason and for any claim, like the one on the sign, the person must be able to provide their reasoning and the evidence for that claim. If that is lacking then perhaps such a sign can be challenged, not as hate speech, but, as factually untrue.

The other sign says “You’re going to hell.” Again, that is a claim that should be able to be defended with evidence. But, more importantly, if that is hate speech then so is are the doctrines of the Catholic church, and many other religions. I use Catholocism as an example because it has over 1 billion adherents and an official position on various topics, homosexuality being one of them. The Catholic Catechism clearly states:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,140 tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.“141 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

And it also says that the punishment for such sins is hell.

1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”617 The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.

How can you not act on the teachings of the church but act when a believer says what, to them and all the members of their religion, is a fact? We must let these people say what they believe so that decent people know who to avoid. I do not wish to associate with those that express hatred for the gay community or for a certain race group and I’d rather know who has those views than be disappointed later. When Jeremy Waldron claims hate speech sends this message:

Don’t be fooled into thinking you are welcome here. The society around you may seem hospitable and non-discriminatory, but the truth is that you are not wanted, and you and your families will be shunned, excluded, beaten, and driven out, whenever we can get away with it. We may have to keep a low profile right now. But don’t get too comfortable. Remember what has happened to you and your kind in the past. Be afraid.

We need to ask how this is possible. This is only possible if those that do not share this view of hatred, which constitutes the majority going by the wording of the paragraph, do not speak out. Those that are welcoming, those that are discriminatory are just as free to express themselves and they should. Hate speech should be opposed not by legislation but by decent society standing up to say that they do not share those views.

The only speech I can see that might need to be subject to restrictions falls under two categories, one of which I have mentioned already. The category I mentioned earlier was that speech which is factually incorrect. People are free to their opinions and to express them but factual claims must be supported by evidence and not be obviously false. If someone says that their god hates homosexuals and can produce the relevant evidence, which is simple for Christianity, then they should be free to say it. I disagree that their god is anything more than a figment of their imagination but they do have the freedom to believe what they will and their beliefs, while offensive, are not infringing on anyone’s rights. If someone says that they can cure cancer with prayers and they don’t have evidence, and so far I am not aware of any, then that claim is false and we do need untruths polluting people’s minds, giving false hope and leading to preventable deaths.

The other time I think speech can be justifiably limited is when it calls for violence or some sort of violation of someone else’s rights. This is essentially the sixth free speech principle.

We neither make threats of violence nor accept violent intimidation.

While I will defend people’s rights to express their hatred there is a huge difference between expressing hatred and calling for violence. One is a personal action and the other is encouraging the violation of someone else’s rights. That sort of action goes against the ideals of free speech and the concept of a society where people can live without fear.

To end I do think that hate speech should be protected as part of freedom of speech. Any hostility created by it can, and should, be overcome by those that disagree standing up and saying so. The only speech I can see needing to be restricted is that which is factually untrue and that which calls for violence.

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2 thoughts on “Hate Speech

  1. Pingback: E&R’s first birthday! | Evidence & Reason

  2. Pingback: There IS something outrageous about stamping out dissenting speech | Evidence & Reason

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