Criminalization of "Hate" Speech

In Canada, the UK and several other places there arelaws that criminalize hate speech.

In the US, some would argue that there are de facto prohibitions against deviation from the PC world view. The various controversies surrounding the word niggardly and the status of free speech on college campuses are prime examples.

A recent poll found that 40% of Millennials are okay with laws limiting people’s ability to say things offensive to minorities.

I have two questions that arise from the preceding:

  1. Do you think that there will eventually be laws in the US barring hate speech? And if you do, when do you think they will be passed?

  2. Do you think it would be a positive thing for the US to have such limits on free speech?

You need to be clear on exactly what aspects of the speech/communication in question are legally punishable. The laws in the UK don’t prescribe some PC nirvana of permitted and forbidden words and formulations, they focus on consequences in the given circumstances of any situation (the “shouting Fire! in a crowded theatre” argument). Prosecutions for incitement to hatred are quite rare, those for lesser public order offences a bit more common, but still not that frequent or severely punished:

Inciting violence is already prohibited under US law. That’s not the issue.

Take for instance the prosecution of Mark Steyn for “Islamophobia.” Steyn releases similar material in the US without being drug into court.

How about the excellent song Money For Nothing being banned in Canada for using the word faggot.

Or the laws against Holocaust denial in various countries.

I think we are headed that direction, but there’s a lot of time between now and that happening–at least a couple generation–and a hell of a lot of inertia to overcome. I personally think there are reasonable hate speech laws that can be implemented that would not violate the core of what freedom of speech is about. Countries with hate speech laws still believe they have freedom of speech.

The current state of things is that both sides are quite radicalized. But I do give an edge to the pro-hate-speech-law crowd, because a significant minority of the other side is made up of bigots, and said bigotry will result in their opinions being treated less credibly.

We already saw this phenomenon with GamerGate: the bigots undermined any legitimacy that movement had.

I doubt there will ever be a hate speech law in the USA, similar to the ones in Europe.

I do think we have a defacto case of that already, however. Look at the celebrities who have lost jobs/TV shows for saying the wrong thing. This sounds like a bad thing, and, to some degree it is, but, I think, having a 10 or 15 year period of excessive social pressure to make things “politically correct” is acceptable and necessary to counter balance the 350+ years of outright misogyny, sexism, racism, etc, that have existed since the time that the Pilgrims landed on Plymoth Rock…

The idea that suppressing peoples’ speech today will somehow make amends for historical wrongs seems at best wrongheaded. At best.


I didn’t say that though, did I?

I’m talking about how 1621 and 1821 affect 2021… not about making amends for events that have already passed.

You did say:

So, somehow, just 15 or so years of squelching dissenting opinion (no more than that I’m sure) will counter balance misogyny, sexism, racism, etc, etc. That’s a nostrum that doesn’t change the past, does repress people in the present, and will no doubt have bad consequences in the future.

Could you give specific examples (of how what I propose is wrong) instead of making broad, general statements?

What has happened here in Canada is when something untrue and bordering on hateful, gets into the news, instead of just fanning the flames by giving the hater airtime and more and more press, the focus shifts to, “Is this, or is this not actually hate speech?”

in truth most every hater gets a pass the FIRST time they spew their tripe, but it totally shifts the focus to, “Is this actually true?”

While there may not be that many actual convictions, the veracity of the claim takes centre stage, gets very, very closely examined. And THAT’S what gets airtime and press!

To my mind that is an enormous win. I’m glad my country has hate speech laws.

(And when Anne Coulter comes round she gets reminded to watch her mouth. I like that too!)

What are the penalties if someone is convicted of hate speech?

There’s a difference between criminal processes and someone losing their job or social status because of something they said. There are plenty of things that are varying degrees of bad manners that don’t fit into what’s appropriate for any given job that aren’t and shouldn’t be subject to criminal prosecution, even though it’s highly debatable and changeable as to where one draws the line. But by the same token, freedom from criminal prosecution for what you say doesn’t mean freedom from all social consequences.

One could say, however, that if imprisonment for a week, or a month or a year for saying something horrible rude and racist/sexist is a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 for severity… if getting fined 100 or 1000 or 10,000 dollars is an 8, then…then loosing your job for the same remark would at least be a 6 or a 7.

Is it really appropriate to have such a strong consequence, 6 or 7, for saying something that, if you said it in a bar or a store, would simply get you nothing more than an invitation to leave, or a rude stare or a harsh comment in rebuttal?

If you are a “pundit” spreading hate, that is one thing… but if you are (slightly) racist or sexist and wind up with the bad luck of simply saying the wrong thing in front of a camera or microphone, and, have no real agenda to hurt anyone… do you really deserve to loose your job?

Maybe we do need a couple of decades to “balance out” sexism and racism. But maybe we don’t, maybe that is a bit too much. I really don’t know what the answer is.

Canadian penalties:

Not more than two years for promoting hate against group or individual.

Not more than five years for defending or advocating/promoting genocide.

(As I understand it. I am prepared to be schooled by those more in the know!)

Ok, thanks, but if someone said… “Homosexuals are so emotional!!!”

Rude, and, at least somewhat homophobic… but, what would the penalty for something like this be? A statement that at worst is just plain rude but promotes no actual harm? (what if they said it with a hateful tone of voice)?

It is only a matter of time that hate speech laws will creep into the U.S., if they already have not.

When I read debates online about it, the most fervent arguments come from the Millennials and The Progressives. They do not see the 1st Amendment as being created to ESPECIALLY protect controversial speech. Here are examples:

“Nobody is saying that Christians or Jews want to kill everybody, or wish death on everybody, or shouldn’t be trusted because they might become violent, or anything like that. A lot of people are saying those things about Muslims, though. It’s wrong. The more people say it and the more people listen to it, the greater the chances are that somebody will do something crazy. Hell, people have been attacking Muslims because they’ve been led to believe that most Muslims support terrorism or whatever…”

“I personally don’t think freedom of speech equals freedom of spreading hate speech. You may disagree, but that’s the way I see it.”

"Some ideas do not belong in your “marketplace of ideas” Some ideas are not worth debating, and should not be given the legitimacy granted by a public debate. They should simply be anathema

As Chomsky said about Holocaust denial, “Even to enter into the arena of debate on whether the Nazis carried out such atrocities is already to lose one’s humanity.”"

But you could piece together a sampling of any strongly worded opinions or reactions to hate speech… and all you will have is some strong reactions. It is a big (very big) step from that to making hate speech actually illegal.

(I am not dismissing my earlier comments on people being fired…)

Rude is not hate. “God hates Fags” is hate.

My point was whether or not it is determined, in the long run to, in fact, be hate becomes almost secondary to the win of having the focus on the actual veracity of the claim. You might get a pass the first time, but once it’s been widely dissected as incorrect, purposely, hatefully, lying, you’re not going to get away with saying it a second time.

Ok, thanks for replying.

But how is “fact” determined? It is not hate speech, but, “conservatives” here in the USA (a few of them) deny global warming. I know it is not the “same” category as hate speech. My point is… well, can you see my point?

The problem with prosecuting hate speech is that hate speech and political speech overlap, and once you open the door to hate speech laws then you open the door to flag burning laws and bringing back obscenity laws. Blasphemy laws can’t be far behind(insulting Mohammed helps the terrorists!)

We already have laws to deal with negative consequences caused by people’s speech. Starting a panic is illegal. Defamation is illegal. Incitement to violence is illegal. Fraud is illegal.