As part of spiked’s Free Speech Now! campaign, four accomplished free speech advocates gathered last Thursday for a panel discussion on why “hate speech” should be free speech. The full discussion was posted today on spiked’s website, and is well worth a listen. FIRE President Greg Lukianoff, former American Civil Liberties Union president Nadine Strossen, lawyer and writer Wendy Kaminer (also a member of FIRE’s Board of Advisors), and spiked editor Brendan O’Neill participated in the event.
The panelists cited chilling incidents throughout history and recently in Europe to demonstrate the danger of criminal laws against hate speech. Strossen argued that such laws are used to punish the very people they are meant to protect. She described what she saw at the University of Michigan when the ACLU was just starting to fight speech codes: “Sure enough, [speech codes were] consistently enforced against minority speakers or speakers who were advocating pro-minority points of view.”
O’Neill brought attention to three recent incidents in Europe that illustrate how hate speech laws are “the main way in which the liberty to think and say what you want is being undermined in Europe.” In Sweden, for example, an artist was jailed for six months for “inciting hatred against an ethnic group.” What did he do? He displayed his paintings of black people in nooses. Two years ago in Britain, O’Neill relays, a British National Party member was sentenced to 240 hours community service and an eight-month suspended jail sentence for two blog posts about immigration in which he used the word “darkies.” He was found guilty of “racially aggravated harassment.” Finally, “a few years ago, a Christian pastor in Europe sentenced to a month in prison for something he said in his own church to his own congregation. He said homosexuality is an abnormal, horrible, cancerous tumor in the body of society.” As O’Neill remarked, “We have got to remember that one man’s hate speech is another man’s profoundly held moral conviction.”
The panelists agreed that in order to fight prejudice and hateful ideas, those ideas must be allowed out in the open. Hate speech laws, in contrast, drive expression underground to “fester” where it cannot be combated.
For more insight on the issue, click over to spiked and listen to the full discussion.