In the second half of the 17th century, Baruch Spinoza, a philosopher from the Netherlands, wrote a persuasive defense of freedom of speech and thought. According to Spinoza, freedom of expression should be regarded a universal and unalienable right. He described “the authority which is exerted over the mind” as “tyrannical.” Spinoza also argued that for peaceful co-existence among member of various faiths and ethnicities within a diverse society freedom of expression is indispensable. His example was that of Amsterdam in the 17th century, “this flourishing republic and noble city,” where “men of every nation, and creed, and sect live together in the utmost harmony” (Spinoza in McHangama 37). What Spinoza probably did not expect is that more than three centuries after his death the humanity would make a step backwards. As of today, all western European countries violate the freedom of expression and freedom of speech right by their hate-speech laws. To various degrees, all European countries criminalize particular displays of hate speech, based on 2008 “Combating Racism and Xenophobia” decision of the EU (McHangama 45). THESIS STATEMENT: European hate-speech laws should be banned because they violate the freedom of expression based on their ambiguity and ineffectiveness in regulation the social climate in multicultural societies.
The first reason why European hate-speech laws should be banned in Europe is because they are absolutely ambiguous, which means that various parties may abuse them to their own benefits. According to Paul Coleman, the author of the book Censored: How European hate Speech Laws Are Threatening Freedom of Speech, “there is no universally recognized understanding of what is considered ‘hate speech’” (Coleman 7). Likewise, the determination of what expressions are “derogatory” and what are “hateful” is highly subjective, so that the representatives of opposite groups, such as atheists and passionate believers, are likely to disagree, say, on the limits of satire that concerns the matters of religion. Similarly, the notions of “racism” and “hatred” have become rather broad concepts (McHangama 38). Besides, the very laws that ban hate speech are vaguely worded, include a large subjective element, often protect just certain people, do not require a falsehood necessarily, seldom require a victim, are criminal in essence, and, lastly, are enforced in an arbitrarily fashion (Coleman 9).
The second reason why European hate-speech laws should be banned is their ineffectiveness in dealing with the problems they are called to resolve. Even though hate speech laws allegedly aim to prevent and punish hatred on various controversial grounds through restricting free speech in favor of other important values, such as equality, human dignity, mutual respect, social harmony, protection of one’s honor and one’s good name, as well as freedom to live in safety and without harassment or intimidation, in reality hate speech laws simply serve to limit public discourse and democratic rights. Coleman’s research shows how multiple hate speech cases across Europe fail to progress past the original stage of formative investigation. In those cases when they go further, a considerable number are prosecuted unsuccessfully or have overturned convictions on appeal even if they were successfully prosecuted. Instead, these laws are often used as “an effective tool in silencing controversial views and shutting down debate” (Coleman 6).
In conclusion, freedom of speech is “the oxygen of a diverse society” (McHangama 38) and is critical to maintaining democracies. Although hate speech laws seemingly aim to protect citizens from harassment and lack of respect, they do not work properly due to ambiguity in formulations. Moreover, they are ineffective as many cases are not prosecuted successfully. Instead, they are utilized as repressive tools. Therefore, they should be banned.
- Coleman, Paul. Censored: How European ‘Hate Speech’ Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech. Kairos Publications, 2012. Print.
- McHangama, Jacob. “Censorship as ‘Tolerance’.” National Review 62.13 (2010): 37-38. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 May 2016.
- McHangama, Jacob. “The Sordid Origin of Hate-Speech Laws.” Policy Review 170 (2011): 45-58. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 May 2016.