The irony in regulating hate speech is that these laws can often hurt the people they were meant to protect.
Jacob Mchangama has made this a central lesson in his new, important book. Freedom of speech: From Socrates through Social Media. Mchangama runs the Danish think-tank Justitia. Mchangama worries about a proposed law that makes hate speech a crime in the European Union’s (EU) laws. It also gives Brussels bureaucrats wide powers to prosecute those spewing hatred against religious or ethnic minorities and members of LGBT+ communities.
Their history in Europe with these laws is a strong argument against them. The Weimar Republic of Germany in the 1920s strictly controlled the press, and used emergency powers to clamp down on Nazi speech. It prosecuted and censored the editor for the anti-Semitic Nazi journal. Der StürmerJulius Streicher was a man who used his trial to spread his ideas and then ended up in prison as a means of making himself a martyr for his cause. Mchangama explains that the Nazis seized power in the early 1930s and expanded on existing precedents and laws to suppress dissent and free assembly.
Modern scholarship shows that governments may have the “backlash effect”, which can lead to extremist beliefs being adopted by otherwise reasonable people. Mchangama refers to the 2017 study that was published in European Journal of Political ResearchThe study concluded that extreme Islam in Western Europe could be fueled by the “extensive” public repression and a lack of support for radical right opinions.
A 1965 United Kingdom law prohibited the “incitement of racial hatred,” and the first person to be prosecuted was a Briton black who said that whites were “vicious, nasty people”. Mchangama says that in England, radical feminists have been arrested for insulting LGBT+ people. They insist there is biological difference between the sexes. France’s LGBT+ rights organisation was penalized for calling homophobic a foe of same-sex married couples ‘homophobe’.
Mchangama cautions, “If the principle free speech is abandoned,” “any minority can be made to suffer from hatred or other offenses.”
After the Supreme Court in Canada ruled in 1990 that images and words that degrade women must be forbidden, this is exactly what Canada experienced in those years. It was partly inspired by the legal theories of Andrea Dworkin (feminist author), whose books about why pornography should not be allowed were briefly confiscated by Canadian customs officers.
The United States still has strong support for the First Amendment. 91 Percent A recent poll found that a majority of Americans agree with the statement “Protecting free speech is an essential part of American democracy.” 60% of respondents also agreed that it was important for the government to prohibit individuals from being racists or other bigots.
Mchangama has a history of freedom of speech that shows how state suppression can allow for hateful ideas or words. MorePower and influence. And that the best antidote to hate in a free and open society is not to hide from it but to openly—and persuasively—Confront it.
Hear my storyReason Interview Listen to Jacob Mchangama’s podcast here.
Nick Gillespie wrote this. Regan Taylor edits.
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