What is 'hate speech'?
Hate speech is a purported new addition to the categories of speech not protected under the umbrella of freedom of speech. It includes any speech that demeans or debases a person or group of people based on gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability, or other characteristics.
Hate speech, however, is inconsistent with the underlying principle of freedom of expression. It grossly narrows the scope of allowable speech within a democratic society due to the ambiguous nature of being ‘demeaned’ or ‘debased’ by an opinion.
In other such categories limiting freedom of expression, we see that there are objective elements of harm. In the case of hate speech, the determining factor becomes wholly subjective. Everyone has different standards for what is appropriate to say. Some people have thicker skin than others. Limiting free speech by what one subjectively sees as being harmful would change with every victim’s account of what ‘harm’ is.
If this were the case, policy arguments that may insult or offend a specific group could not be heard simply on the basis of subjective whim. It is not the popular opinions that we must protect, it is unpopular ones.
If we take John Stewart Mill’s famous quote on the necessity of allowing unpopular speech to be heard, the importance of this protection becomes all too clear.
Inevitably, who defines the bounds of hate speech are those in power. One of the major purposes of this freedom is to hold those in power to account. By allowing those in power to define the boundaries, the purpose of free speech is lost.
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