Criminalizing Expression: Hate Speech and Obscenity

L. W. Sumner

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Criminal Law

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780195314854
Published online September 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Criminalizing Expression: Hate Speech and Obscenity


Since many acts may be harmful, and since society has many other means for controlling or responding to conduct, criminal law should be used only when the harm caused or threatened is serious, and when the other, less coercive or less intrusive means do not work or are inappropriate. This chapter uses Canadian free speech law and jurisprudence as a reference point, since the Canadian courts have been particularly obliging in raising and responding to the principal philosophical issues concerning the criminal regulation of expression. It concludes that the case for criminal regulation is weakest where the harms in question are widespread and diffuse and the causal link with speech remote and speculative. The case is stronger, however, for legislation such as the hate incitement law that is more narrowly aimed at speech which constitutes instigation to an unlawful act, especially to a hate crime.

Keywords: hate speech; obscenity; criminal law; free speech law; hate crime

Article.  10369 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Law

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