Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Should the right to hate speech be guaranteed?

Anonymous commenters on various message boards across the Internet repeatedly argue that they are entitled to freely express their opinions regardless of how slanderous or hateful they might be. Stanley Fish’s column in the NY Times on this topic effectively rebuts such harmful contentions:

Jeremy Waldron’s new book, “The Harm in Hate Speech,” might well be called “The Harm in Free Speech”; for Waldron, a professor of law and political theory at New York University and Oxford, argues that the expansive First Amendment we now possess allows the flourishing of harms a well-ordered society ought not permit.

Waldron is especially concerned with the harm done by hate speech to the dignity of those who are its object. He is careful to distinguish “dignity harms” from the hurt feelings one might experience in the face of speech that offends. Offense can be given by almost any speech act — in particular circumstances one might offend by saying “hello” — and Waldron agrees with those who say that regulating offensive speech is a bad and unworkable idea.

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