Autonomy and Hate Speech

C. Edwin Baker

in Extreme Speech and Democracy

Published in print February 2009 | ISBN: 9780199548781
Published online May 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780191720673 | DOI:
 Autonomy and Hate Speech

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This chapter describes the rationale that a full protection theory of free speech — a theory based on respect for individual autonomy — would give for protecting hate speech. It then notes that such a rationale will be unpersuasive to many if the harms associated with a failure to outlaw hate speech are as great as often suggested — most dramatically, if the failure to prohibit makes a substantial contribution to the occurrence of serious racial/ethnic violence or genocide. The chapter then attempts to outline what empirical evidence would be needed to support this conclusion and gives reasons to doubt that this evidence has been or will be forthcoming. Still, given the horrendous nature of the harm, caution suggests not taking the risk. That is, the risk may justify prohibiting hate speech given its possible role in causing these consequences. In response to this last point, however, the chapter gives reasons to believe that the attempt to prohibit hate speech is more likely to exacerbate the risk of unacceptable outcomes than to generate the benign opposite. Thus, the argument ends in accepting the theoretical reasons for giving First Amendment protection to hate speech.

Keywords: hate speech; genocide; free speech; First Amendment; full protection theory; individual autonomy

Chapter.  9716 words. 

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration

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