[H]ate speech should be regulated as part of our commitment to human dignity and to inclusion and respect for members of vulnerable minorities. Causing offense—by depicting a religious leader as a terrorist in a newspaper cartoon, for example—is not the same as launching a libelous attack on a group’s dignity, according to Waldron, and it lies outside the reach of law. But defamation of a minority group, through hate speech, undermines a public good that can and should be protected: the basic assurance of inclusion in society for all members. A social environment polluted by anti-gay leaflets, Nazi banners, and burning crosses sends an implicit message to the targets of such hatred: your security is uncertain and you can expect to face humiliation and discrimination when you leave your home.
John Paul Stevens is relatively impressed:
Waldron distinguishes between protecting people from offense and protecting their dignity. The example of contemptuous conduct in open court illustrates his distinction. We do not punish the contempt—at least we do not acknowledge doing so—because the judge may be angered by an insulting remark or gesture, but rather to maintain decorum in the courtroom. Sustaining a judge’s authority assists her in performing her job. So it is with the dignity of the ordinary citizen. The fact that members of an ethnic minority may be justifiably outraged by hate speech is not a sufficient justification for censorship. But as citizens in a civil society, they are entitled to be treated with respect in the performance of their daily activities. Such dignity, Waldron argues, is “precisely what hate speech laws are designed to protect.”
As is Katharine Gelber, even more so:
Waldron makes the extremely important point that the term “hate” is a misnomer. It implies that what is at stake is primarily how a person feels about something said to them. He argues instead that the point of hate-speech laws is not to address offence, it is to address harm to human dignity.
I’ll do my best to make time to read this. Waldron’s lectures here are always excellent (I blogged after one on the very topic of dignity, actually), and he’s particularly impressive in his ability to marshall facts about legal history and draw upon them to illuminate political theory. And from those two reviews I linked to above, it looks like this book also does that very well. It’s very easy to wheel out stock arguments leading to simple positions on this issue, but I’ve always had the feeling that it’s more complicated than it may seem. This will no doubt be the kind of proper treatment the issue deserves.
(Hat Tip: Political Theory – Habermas and Rawls)