ERIC Number: EJ970374
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Jun-3
Reference Count: N/A
Sticks, Stones--And Words, Too?
Chronicle of Higher Education, Jun 2012
Jeremy Waldron, a professor of social and political theory at University of Oxford and also a professor of law at New York University, contends that laws against hate speech deserve further consideration, even if he doubts they "will ever pass constitutional muster in America." He contends that "The Harm in Hate Speech," as his title has it, begins with American legal tradition flatly declining to prohibit it. As a result, "hate speech" or "group libel" is allowed to damage individuals' social standing--the "fundamentals of basic reputation"--which American democracy ostensibly guarantees. Deeply ingrained in American jurisprudence is a belief that offensive speech should be countered with other speech, not the force of law. But "group libel," Waldron contends, "is both a calculated affront to the dignity of vulnerable members of society and a calculated assault on the public good of inclusiveness." It maligns and denounces groups for their race, skin color, sexual orientation, or national, ethnic, or religious character. It may come in the form of racist graffiti, cross burnings, Islamophobic blogs, and pro-Hitler, swastika-emblazoned Nazis parading in Skokie, Ill. Waldron makes the case that, more than when uttered verbally, such forms of publication or public display intrude deeply and enduringly into public life. By assaulting the "reputation, status, standing" of individual members of targeted groups, they disrupt "well-ordered society." That is why many advanced democracies have adopted laws against hate speech, as required under such agreements as the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted in 1966. What explains American exceptionalism on the issue? The claim that anti-hate-speech codes impinge on free speech is all very well for "the white liberals who find the racist invective distasteful" and yet worthy of defending as an American right. But what of those who are the targets? "Can their lives be led, can their children be brought up, can their hopes be maintained and their worst fears dispelled, in a social environment polluted by these materials?" Waldron considers American objections to such measures often "knee-jerk, impulsive, or thoughtless."
Descriptors: Freedom of Speech, Reputation, Democracy, Democratic Values, Social Values, Civil Rights, Civil Rights Legislation, Social Attitudes, Labeling (of Persons), Social Bias, Activism, Consciousness Raising, Legal Responsibility, Libel and Slander
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A