No Hate Speech, No Free Speech: In Praise of the First Amendment
Most European countries have laws restricting ‘hate speech’. America, with its attachment to First Amendment freedoms, has none. Jeremy Waldron, an English legal academic in America, suggests that the Americans are mistaken.
The Harm in Hate Speech is part of a debate Waldron has been having with US free-speech defenders, on the pages of various reviews of books and from the podium of New York University. Waldron argues that liberals have not sufficiently appreciated the harm done by hate speech. This is a charge he particularly directs against Anthony Lewis, author of Freedom for the Thought That We Hate, and more recently against Timothy Garton Ash on the pages of the Free Speech Debate website.
Indeed, he accuses liberals of ‘liberal bravado’, making a show of their ability to ‘bear the pain’ of ‘vicious invective’. Yet they are not the victims of hate speech, he says; it is vulnerable individuals and groups who suffer harm, while free-speech advocates stand on the sidelines quoting Voltaire.
Waldron defines hate speech as ‘words which are deliberately abusive and/or insulting and/or threatening and/or demeaning, directed at members of vulnerable minorities, calculated to stir up hatred against them’. Hate speech is an attack on the ‘fundamental dignity’ of other members of society. The ‘harm’ of hate speech is like a ‘group libel’ offence, the defamation or demeaning of another social group.
He argues that hate speech is a crime that is a harm in esteem. This is a harm that is more than mere offence or criticism, but less than a threat of violence or attempted act of violence.