Action Alert!

a case for hate speech

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Aug 16, 2005

British PM Tony Blair has asked for new legal muscle in order to deport those he calls "preachers of hate." We all understand the pressures that make it an attractive political temptation to silence hate speech, but I think it's a temptation that should be resisted. Speaking from within the citizenship of a democratic state -- as opposed to, say, membership in a Catholic parish -- I'd want to defend the right of other citizens to give voice to their hatreds, including hatred of Catholics in general and of this individual Catholic in particular.

Isn't spreading hatred a sin? It is. But how many of the sins you admit in Confession are, or should be, crimes under civil law? Western democracies happily tolerate greed speech, lust speech, envy speech, sloth speech, pride speech -- in fact, it's a rare specimen of advertising, entertainment, or political oratory that doesn't urge us to embrace one deadly sin or another. Why should "hate speech" be singled out for banishment?

One obvious reason is that civil peace requires a minimum level of mutual toleration, and by definition hatred is intolerant. But all democracies have laws against "incitement to riot" -- public encouragement to break the laws already in place. So it's not persons or property that are defended by laws prohibiting hate speech. What is?

Laws against hate speech protect and fortify the ideological worldview of those who enforce them -- and here I don't mean cops, but the politicians, the law profs, the prosecutors, the judges, and (most importantly) the media elites who beam the spotlight of their antagonism on some groups they find noxious while giving others a pass. What makes hate speech a crime is not what the perp actually does or intends to do, but what the victim claims to feel -- and, de facto, only certain groups are accredited as victim groups. If your target doesn't qualify as an approved victim, it doesn't matter how much heat is in your hatred; if it does qualify, the good will that motivates your discourse is equally beside the point. Do we trust Harvard Law School, CNN, and the Cook County Democratic Committee to decide what speech is hate speech and what isn't?

Earlier I linked a photo from the March for Women's Lives showing a gal holding a sign that reads Euthanize Christians. Sure smells like hatred to me. On the other hand, it's pretty much par for the course among pro-aborts and only slightly more edgy than the discourse common in Gender Studies departments and the journalism of "alternative" weeklies. Dawn Eden's example of the Planned Parenthood snuff cartoon belongs in the same category. Has any law prof or prestige-media editor suggested this verges on the criminal? Even those whom it targets have largely become inured to the venom. Sure they hate us, so what's new?

If the tables were turned, and the material splashed in public read "Euthanize [insert accredited victim group here]" -- we can imagine all too clearly the consequent outrage, and if that outrage were equipped with the power to punish with criminal sanctions, it would not be slow to use it. But within the last five years we've seen the "hatred threshold" ratcheted-down dramatically. It's no longer a matter of spray-painting tombstones or shattering windows -- public reading of the Book of Leviticus can count as hatred. Remember, what matters is what the victim wants to matter. The Episcopal Bishops of Massachusetts linked hate crimes to a notice from the CDW on admission to Holy Orders. If our prisons become (even in part) re-education camps on the Chinese model, do we want to give these guys the power of the keys?

For Christians, hate speech laws are a lose-lose proposition. We have excellent reason to doubt the elites will accord us victim status, and excellent reason to believe the same elites will find crimes in our ordinary evangelical discourse. I admit I don't like it when some red-fanged imam gloats over the torment awaiting the infidels, but it's a price we should be willing to pay for the liberty to speak the truth ourselves. "Blessed are you when men hate you," Jesus said. He commanded us to pray for those who wish us ill, but did not tell us to gag them.

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