Hate-speech laws misused to put chill on ordinary views
One effect of our laws and policies against hate speech has been to chill and deform public discussion of controversial or sensitive matters.
That wasn’t the intention behind these laws and policies, at least not among those who first drafted them.
Some members of the committee were prepared to abandon recommending any law, even at the cost of letting neo-Nazis speak freely, if they thought a law would put non-hateful speech at risk.
But times have changed, and with them have changed intentions and purposes.
Nowadays it looks as though the main purpose of laws and policies in
What people say can harm people. It can harm them by lowering their self-esteem, for instance, or by causing them to internalize negative self-images, or by bringing others to think of them through negative stereotypes. But when speech harms people in these ways or others, it harms them because what it says seems plausible, ordinary, reasonable. If people in our communities are being kept down by other people’s mistaken opinions or baseless feelings, it’s because those opinions and feelings are widespread and common, and come from people who bear no ill will toward anyone.
And so, if people need to be protected against the effects of speech, it’s against the effects of lots of bits of everyday speech. The hateful opinions and proposals pose no real problem, for they find no audience, while in a society marked by inequalities along lines of race, ethnicity, sex, and sexual preference, ordinary opinions might well pose major problems for the dispossessed and the people on the margins. An expert who floats the hypothesis that girls by nature can’t do higher math will do more damage to members of a vulnerable class than will the loner whose website proclaims all women are trash.
If the intention of those who administer laws against the promotion of hate is actually as much to police everyday expression and discussion as to silence the occasional neo-Nazi, then the investigations by human rights agencies of
Of course, it is possible that our various human rights agencies are not actually consciously using sticks to influence the content of everyday public discourse. Perhaps today’s chilly climate is entirely an unintended and regretted byproduct of an honest attempt to silence only the haters.
There are reasons for doubt, though. One is that Richard
As well, in her statement regarding
Let us hear what Prof.
Stop Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act