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Posts Tagged ‘hate speech’

The diplomat, 47-year-old Rowan Laxton, allegedly shouted “f***ing Israelis, f***ing Jews” while watching television reports of the Israeli attack on Gaza last month.

He is also alleged to have said that Israeli soldiers should be “wiped off the face of the Earth” during the rant at the London Business School gym near Regents Park on January 27. […]

After a complaint from a member of the public, Mr Laxton was arrested for inciting religious hatred – which can carry a seven-year prison term – and bailed to reappear at a central London police station at the end of March.

Here’s the full report.

The wisdom of having a law directed against incitement of racial hatred is questionable; the particular application here borders on the absurd. Or perhaps I am merely arguing from a strictly American viewpoint — courts here have repeatedly ruled that “incitement” must always carry an element of imminence — which might not apply in the land of the Queen.

Anyway, the point is, a person would never be prosecuted for a racial tirade in the US. Reminds me that in many ways, the US still offers free-speech protection far superior to anywhere else. I should do some research on Switzerland law before I move there.

Also read: My short post comparing free-speech protections in some selected countries.

Update: I should add that the free speech protections in this country exist primarily because they are constitutionally granted. If the present public had its way, it would certainly get diluted, as it has in so many other places.

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Freedom has taken a battering in Netherlands lately and this latest news is a sad day for those of us who believe in free speech.

On a related note, it might be interesting to try and figure out what’s the best place for free speech today.

USA? Perhaps has the broadest protections for speech anywhere (thanks to the greatest piece of law ever written) with one sad exception: the obscenity statute. A culture of political correctness that is stronger than continental Europe does, however act as a social deterrent against certain types of speech.

Denmark? You will certainly not be prosecuted for obscenity, but hate speech laws exist — though they are rarely enforced.

Switzerland? Similar to Denmark, but also has laws against holocaust denial.

Netherlands? Till recently this would have been my answer, since their hate speech laws are not as broad and they will certainly not censor porn. Unfortunately they do have laws against discriminatory speech, which is what Wilders is (presumably) being charged under.

Ireland? I don’t know too much, but seems to be a good place. Technically laws against speech that ‘undermine public morality’ exist, but they are never enforced. They do not appear to have hate speech laws or holocaust denial laws.

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Popular blogger and premier gay rights activist Andrew Sullivan writes:

So I oppose hate crime laws because they walk too close to the line of trying to police people’s thoughts. I support the right of various religious associations to discriminate against homosexuals in employment. I support the right of the most fanatical Christianist to spread the most defamatory stuff about me and the right of the most persuasive Christianist to teach me the error of my ways. I support the right of the St Patrick’s Day Parade to exclude gay people – because that’s what freedom of association requires. In my ideal libertarian world, I would even support the right of employers to fire gay people at will (although I am in a tiny minority of gays and straights who would tolerate such a thing). All I ask in return is a reciprocal respect: the right to express myself freely and to be treated by the government exactly as any heterosexual in my position would be treated.

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David Bernstein has a fine post where he explains the perils of having ‘reasonable restriction on free speech’ such as hate speech laws:

When I was in law school, advocates of weakening First Amendment protections to restrict “hate speech” pointed to Canada as a shining example of how egregious expression could be banned without threatening freedom of speech more generally. At the time, the Canadian Supreme Court was holding that Holocaust denial and violent, misogynistic pornography are not protected under Canadian constiutitional law. And, really, who wants to defend Holocaust denial and violent pornography? Yet, less than twenty year later, we have Canadian citizens being prosecuted for quoting biblical injunctions against homosexual activity, or for merely reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons. (For the latest outrage, see here, courtesy of Instapundit). So the Canadian example hasn’t quite worked out as its prior advocates had anticipated. Instead of being an example of “reasonable” restrictions on freedom of expression, it has become an example of the slippery slope problems inherent in allowing restrictions on freedom of expression based on subjective views of what is sufficiently offensive or problematic to be banned.

I have pointed out the same thing in several old posts. And even leaving aside the slippery-slope argument, there is something fundamentally immoral about censoring someone’s opinions because it is distasteful.

Bernstein’s post also goes into other issues, such as the intrinsic arbitrariness of tribunals that end up enforcing such laws. Read the whole thing.

By now, the most important truth ought to be obvious to all — freedom of speech needs to be absolute in order to mean anything. Thus one cannot have a thing such as a “right to never have your feelings hurt”.

Unfortunately, as Orwell famously said, to see what is one front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

So I repeat myself, ad nauseum, for that is all I can do really.

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After Canada, it is Australia.

Australian gun lobbyist Ron Owen has been told he is entitled to express his homophobic views, but that he went too far with the bumper sticker: “Gay Rights? Under God’s law the only rights gays have is the right to die.”

Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found Owen guilty of inciting hatred against homosexuals with the bumper sticker when he parked his car outside the Cooloola Shire Council offices in Gympie, north of Brisbane.

[…]The former president of the National Firearm Owners of Australia was taken to the tribunal by several local lesbians, who claimed they had been offended despite only one having seen the bumper sticker.

Two of the women were awarded $4,195, with a third awarded $2,000 in damages.

The problem with a hypothetical “right to not get offended”, indeed with any hate speech law is that it not only contradicts the more important right to freedom of speech but also that offence is an incredibly subjective phenomenon. For example, it is a fact that I am extremely offended at the tribunal’s decision. It insults my deepest beliefs about human rights. It makes me cynical about the state of the world and the future of liberty. Indeed the commision’s decision makes me and other libertarians feel insecure and hated.

Now, can I have my money too?

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Check out Ilya Somin’s post at Volokh about the United Nations campaign to create a new international law norm banning “defamation of religion.” Money quote:

Given the broad scope of religious ethics, almost any political or ideological statement might be seen as offensive to the values of one religious group or another. To some theologically conservative Muslims and Christians, advocacy of gay equality is just as offensive to their religious sensibilities as a negative portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed. And claims that Muslim nations mistreat homosexuals might be viewed as no less “defamatory” of traditional Islam than the Mohammed cartoons. […] The right place to block this particular slippery slope is at the very top of the hill.

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Scott Aaronson has a nice post in which he plots political freedom and economic freedom on a chart and concludes that while the two are definitely correlated, the correlation seems to disappear near the high-freedom areas of the chart. In fact he hypothesises there might be a ‘Pareto curve’ fitting this negative correlation between the two freedoms near the top of the scale.

Unfortunately, as I point out in a comment on his blog, his data is suspect, especially near the top end of the scale that is relevant to the Pareto curve discussion. For instance, Canada and Sweden lie near the top of the political freedom scale according to the Freedom House survey that he uses. In particular, they both have perfect scores in “freedom of expression and belief”. Of course, this is deeply flawed as both countries have insidious hate speech laws that stifle speech, especially those belonging to the far right.

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