“People demand freedom of speech to make up for the freedom of thought which they seldom use”

– Soren Kierkegaard


There are many reasons we already have limitations on speech and regulate it to some degree. All across the world common laws have been enacted that limit speech for issues related to breach of privacy, gag orders, defamation, solicitation of minors, and of course for inciting violence. But hate-speech has become a controversial issue lately. Lets first distinguish free-speech vs hate speech. Freedom of speech is the principle right of the public to speak and share their views without fear of retaliation and censorship by the government. Hate speech are words with the denotation and connotation of causing emotional or physical harm to a protected minority group. These groups need to be protected from hateful ideas that have historically oppressed them. Think of the most vile groups that would make your stomach turn. Groups like the KKK, Proud Boys, ACPeds, WBC, NAMBLA, who advocate for either white supremacy, white nationalism, transphobia, gay conversion therapy, religious zealotry, and pedophilia respectively. These ideas are significant because they have had far reaching influence on shaping public policy and social norms since time-immemorial.

These hate-groups are finding their voices again by hiding behind current laws and policies that protect freedom of speech. In countries like the United States you will be far more likely to find these hateful/obscene groups banded together marching in their own parades. With the protection of the state and local authorities, these groups march under the banner of freedom of speech. It’s interesting that on social-media sites that promote freedom of speech (i.e. Bitchute, Gab, and 4Chan), are also popularized by far-right fascist hate groups. To be fair these groups are being censored by regular social media sites who’s terms of service prohibit the promotion of hateful or violent rhetoric. It should also be stated that this isn’t necessarily the case. Both Facebook and Twitter have have come under public scrutiny in the past for defending patriarchal and racially charged rhetoric. Still the fact that you would be hard pressed to find any free-speech site not popularized by these hate-groups is proof of concept.

Limitations on hate speech exist in countries all across the world. France prohibits private conversations that incites discrimination, hatred, and violence. Chili has laws against the use of social media to advocate for discriminatory hatred. In Canada publicly inciting hatred against any group is deemed a criminal offense and carries a maximum 2 year prison sentence. You may be shocked and dismayed to find that these countries didn’t implode. Yet with the increasing ongoing debates happening online and in my home country of the United States I thought I would provide 7 philosophical reasons that we ‘ought’ limit hate speech.

1) Because we all fall under the social contract. (No, the social contract is not a piece of paper! It’s a concept that means when you live amongst a society then it is necessary to relinquish certain freedoms in order to peacefully co-exist. I would argue this as a logical absolute! In order to have a free society, any society, you must relinquish certain freedoms as to not breach the freedoms and rights of others).

2) Because hate speech is harmful and abusive, which should be rightfully limited by the government. (The old platitude “sticks and stones may break my bones but words don’t hurt”, is silly and wrong. Words do hurt! Words can have a positive and negative effect on a person(s) physical and mental health. This goes into Mill’s no harm principle, that the only times a government can/ought to exercise power is when such acts by the people harms others).

3) Because it appeals to our civil liberties, (Let’s remember in civics limiting rights is part and parcel of having civil freedoms because there are positive and negative rights. Yes, you have the freedom to things but also from things).

4) But whom decides? (The old adage “I don’t like what you say but I’ll defend to the ‘death’ your right to say it!” is a quote from the French writer Voltaire (21 November 1694 – 30 May 1778). But lets remember Voltaire lived during a time of monarchy rule where often laws were decided by one ruling member or party. However, how we decide which speech should be limited should be done constitutionally and democratically. We live in a republic, the beauty of a republic is that we are always able to revisit old statues and amend them at any time. So if we were to limit freedom of speech nothing would be absolute. Even if we struggle to understand what is harmful and abusive speech we can always go back and revisit old statutes and discuss them in a ceremonious way).

5) Society must be intolerant of intolerance? (There’s an argument by the Austrian – British philosopher Karl Popper about the use of unlimited tolerance in a society. First introduced in his book entitled The Open Society and its Enemies, Popper introduces a concept known today as the Paradox of Intolerance. Popper imagines a society with unlimited tolerance – that accepts the intolerant views and behaviors of others. Popper argued that such a society would inevitably be destroyed because the intolerant would subjugate, by force, any ability for a society to be tolerant. We must, therefore, accept such a contradiction for pragmatic purposes. To be fair he did discuss allowing some intolerant views for critique. But emphasized such intolerant views should be suppressed, by force, if necessary. We cannot, he concluded, tolerate intolerance within a society).

6) Because hate-speech cannot be avoided. (There’s an argument by the late legal philosopher Joel Feinberg called the offensive principle. But the name is very misleading, it should rather be called the avoidance principle. Feinberg argues that limiting speech that is heinous and offensive is necessary because it has an adverse effect on our daily lives. Feinberg would argue that things like publications, artistic works, and even certain public spheres would be protected given that they can easily be avoided and have no greater effect on any person’s daily-life).

7) Hate-speech silences others? (This plays into the concept of tyranny of the majority but as J.S. Mill wrote, tyranny of decided opinion or the deep slumber of decided opinion. J.S. Mill criticized the conformist society as suppressing dissenting – unpopular opinions; however, it should be noted Mill’s conclusion was in favor of the modern-day concept of free-speech. But it should also be noted that this was not his argument. His argument raises the question as to the nature of conformist societies and whether they foster such environments where views and opinions of minorities can be expressed fully).

Explanation: Let’s not fall into a perfect-solution fallacy. I’m not saying that limiting hate-speech will solve everything and there won’t be problems. But enacting laws that regulate hate speech will definitely act as a deterrent for people that hold potential ideas that are abusive and harmful to minorities. I realize that ideas and words are somewhat of a relativistic notion. But there is such a thing as harmful ideas that are simply meant to be abusive with the intention of causing harm. And I see no arguments from the other side other than thought terminating cliche’s, “free speech”, “my opinion”, “who decides”! If we can understand public policy and civics, and create laws centered around them, then we can grasp abusive and harmful language. If you argue in favor of your views on the promotion of slavery or that transgender people are delusional then these are not reasonable arguments but hateful ideologies. Any country that promotes freedom of speech has sensible laws in place that regulate and limit speech that is harmful or a danger to the public. And yet, are also slow to enact laws for the protection of minorities which is somehow sacrosanct.

– Jubilee Nunnallee 6/11/2017

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