Protecting Hate Speech

By: Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary I do not like the neo-nazis. I do not like the Ku Klux Klan. I am not even crazy about the John Birch Society. I certainly am not crazy about their ideas, theories and hate speech. Unfortunately in a growing number of cases what they say can lead to action—violence and bloodshed. For those of us on the street level this has been frequently the case. People in the law profession make it clear that hate and prejudice speech is protected speech as long as it is not violent. All right, it is protected speech. I will not deny that. But as I said again, on the street level I have seen hate and prejudice speech foment violent actions. As the old saying goes where there is smoke there is fire. This viewpoint is what many governments in Muslim countries are looking at. They have been enacting laws in their own countries that basically punishes anyone who incites hate against one’s religion and against extremists who cause violence through their speeches and ideas.

With what is happening in Pakistan, Egypt, and Indonesia, I can well understand why so many governments in these countries are enacting extreme religious violent prevention laws. They are trying to stem the tide of violent demonstrations—especially by extremist radicals—and to protect those religious minorities (mostly Christians, Jews and Hindus) in their countries. Given what images we have seen I can well understand why they are doing this. These Muslim countries are also trying to help educate their people on why religious tolerance is needed, try to provide information on their countries’ religious minorities, and teach their children in school the harm of extremist influences. It is not hard to imagine why these countries are doing this—the very stability of these countries, not to mention investments and tourism, are at risk. One of the major problems these countries face is that their legal systems are weak or they have been torn apart by the Arab Spring revolutions that have changed so much.

Making laws that suppress hate speech and intolerance are at times the best things these countries can do, even if it does not exactly encompass due process. Many Arab and Muslim countries have been proposing through the United Nations that non-Muslim countries propose anti-religious violence laws to be in line with such laws being put into place in the Muslim world. As you may have guessed, neither the United States nor any of the European Union countries are going to do this. It is not hard to figure out why—these countries largely have strong legal systems that protect the rights of those who are unpopular as well as those who are popular. With certain exceptions, even hate speech is protected in the European Union as well as the United States. As many human and civil rights groups will explain, passing anti-hate and anti-religious violence laws is a slippery slope to censorship, state threats against people trying to exercise their rights, and eventually trashing the legal system that protects the rights of those who practice hate speech. As much as I do not like the legal aspect of the protection of hate speech, I have to accept this because the law must protect all who speak (just not act).

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