Why do we protect free speech? My colleague, Marc, argues in his current draft that Americans, historically, have protected free speech on one of two theories. On the first, we protect free speech in order to promote individual expression. On the other, we protect free speech in order to advance the public welfare. These two conceptions can lead to different results in particular cases. Take hate speech, for example. If one thinks free speech is about promoting individual expression, one would give speakers a great deal of leeway, even when their speech insults others–on the basis of religion, for example. On the other hand, if one thinks free speech exists to promote the public good, one would be less inclined to allow speech that injures the dignity of third parties, at least without some compelling reason.
A forthcoming book from Cambridge, Putting Faith in Hate: When Religion Is the Source or Target of Hate Speech, addresses the regulation of hate speech in liberal democracies today. The author is Canadian law professor Richard Moon (University of Windsor, Ontario). The publisher’s description follows:
To allow or restrict hate speech is a hotly debated issue in many societies. While the right to freedom of speech is fundamental to liberal democracies, most countries have accepted that hate speech causes significant harm and ought to be regulated. Richard Moon examines the application of hate speech laws when religion is either the source or target of such speech. Moon describes the various legal restrictions on hate speech, religious insult, and blasphemy in Canada, Europe and elsewhere, and uses cases from different jurisdictions to illustrate the particular challenges raised by religious hate speech. The issues addressed are highly topical: speech that attacks religious communities, specifically anti-Muslim rhetoric, and hateful speech that is based on religious doctrine or scripture, such as anti-gay speech. The book draws on a rich understanding of freedom of expression, the harms of hate speech, and the role of religion in public life.