The Concept Of Hate Speech

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It is a very common point of view that individuals have the right to their opinions. Indeed, a central feature of autonomy is the freedom of thought, and any person or society which values individual autonomy must consequently treat it as a fundamental right. A fundamental right is one that may not be violated, even for the sake of a public good. As it would be wrong to kill ten carriers of a dangerous disease to prevent its spread to a thousand others, it would be wrong to punish people for holding unpopular or even reprehensible beliefs. There is no fundamental right, however, to act on one’s beliefs. If a person believes that all who are not a member of their particular religion should be killed, that is their right. But if they begin…show more content…
It seems fairly clear that hate speech when it targets historically or currently oppressed or disadvantaged groups has more power to cause mental and emotional pain than when it is directed at others. However, emotional distress is not itself a harm that can justify restricting speech. Arthur and Altman both agree on this point. Arthur concludes that the content alone of an act of speech cannot cause harm, and therefore that content restrictions like those in university speech codes are unjustifiable. The manner in which an opinion is expressed may be restricted, just as it can by governments: if an act of speech causes disruption to someone’s life, property, or education, then the university should not allow it, regardless of its…show more content…
This is a useful concept when applied to institutions and particularly to governments. Equal consideration dictates that the interests of people who may be offended by what they consider to be hate speech should be taken into account, even if such speech does not otherwise constitute harm against them. This means that universities should never commit or endorse acts of hate speech, and perhaps should even publicly condemn them. However, the institution is not responsible for the speech of individuals, and thus allowing it cannot be considered an act of expression. There is indeed no sufficient harm that individual hate speech causes to justify restricting it. In order to create a space that is safe for all people, a university community should instead commit to endorse in speech and action those values it agrees with. Allowing acts of hate speech does not mean granting them an equal platform, nor does it mean shielding them from criticism. In fact, it is probably more effective for opponents of hate speech to openly debate hateful ideas than to ban them. Minds are not changed by repression. Mill knew that, and the very purpose of a university is based upon that
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