In my last post, I wrote about two types of speech that we might desire limiting. In this post, I want to examine the idea that another type of free speech that should possibly be limited is hate speech.
What do you think: should racist or sexist statements be allowed in public areas? Should children in middle schools be allowed to call gay classmates “faggots”? And what about something like Islamophobia: should people be allowed to discriminate others based on their religion?
This sign demonstrates one argument against this type of speech:
However, this is a dubious statement. If we were to say, for example, “Islam is a terrible religion because it has made life hell for millions of homosexuals,” this might be classified as Islamophobic hate speech. But isn’t the goal of such speech to correct what the speaker perceives as a social ill? He may be railing hatefully on a particular religion, but in this case, his belief that a particular social group is causing a particular problem seems to be a valid case of free speech. This seems to be the type of speech Mill’s arguments might successfully defend.
This presents one argument for allowing hate speech: the group being criticized really might be at fault.
Another argument for allowing religious discrimination is that, unlike race or sexual orientation, someone can choose his or her religion. Also, religions stand for particular ideals. Even though there are differing opinions even within the same religion, calling yourself a member of a particular religion means that you willingly adopt at least some of its doctrines. Therefore, there is personal responsibility involved in many religious stances. To criticize a Christian for thinking the Earth is 6,000 years old is to criticize the Christian for something he/she willingly chose to believe. He/she does not have to believe it; a conscious choice was involved, so if they are wrong, they are culpable. To make fun of someone for being black or gay, though, is to make fun of something that they did not choose and are therefore not responsible for. This is one argument for allowing free speech of religious criticism: we choose our religion, and should therefore be prepared to deal with the criticism, or change our beliefs.
But what about hate speech against people who can’t choose the way they are? For example, should we allow gay-bullying or homophobia in schools?
On one hand, we know the damage caused by gay-bullying. On the other hand, censoring people who are condemning homosexuals for religious reasons seems to be suppression of religious or moral freedom of speech. One solution is that we could censor gay-bullying that is not religiously motivated (such as calling someone a “faggot”) while protecting one’s right to express religious disapproval. Well, Michigan tried enacting such a law, but the backlash was enormous: watch this short video of Michigan Senate Democratic Leader condemning “Matt’s Safe Schools Law” for ENABLING bullying.
There is a fine line between bullying and moral condemnation, and what happens when religion is merely being used as a scapegoat?
So why does the government allow bullying if it’s done for religious purposes? One answer is that the act of banning religious condemnation of homosexuality is that it is inherently taking a stance on religion. For the government to say, “You have no right to say that homosexuality is wrong,” is to take a clear stance on a religion whose holy book specifically addresses the immorality of homosexuality. But at the same time, we don’t allow religions to practice every doctrine their particular religion might teach (e.g. we don’t allow human sacrifice, polygamy, etc.).
While gay-bashing is probably a violation of Mill’s “harm principle”, many of his arguments for free speech still apply. What if, for example, there really is a God who will punish homosexuals unless they repent and become celibate? If this really is the case, as many Americans believe it is, wouldn’t it be good to allow this message to be shared—just in case?
So what do you think?
Should we allow discrimination based on religion?
Should we allow gay-bullying in schools?
Are there any other kinds of hate speech that we might consider banning?