The world iexperiences dilemmas in regulating hateful online expression. Free speech can be offensive and contribute to a climate of prejudice against minorities. The paper engages with the normative dimensions of the balance between the need to limit incitement to violence in reconciliation with the right to free speech. Three aspects of hate speech are covered: the first relates to the role of freedom of expression as a tool of inclusiveness. With the limits of liberal tolerance being unclear, legal systems are torn between criminalising the speaker’s motive alone or in conjunction with the effects of the speech. The second aspect looks at the challenges of the regulation of online free speech. The final aspect of the paper proposes an actor-based analysis of hate speech from a governance perspective. This section deals with the role of the State and that of equality bodies, political parties and private businesses in providing more efficient networks of protection of minorities.
This paper analyses the terror attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices through several prisms: freedom of expression; the principle of profound offence; the fallacy of universal liberalism; globalisation, and the era in which we live of violence and terror. It is argued that after the violent episodes of “The Satanic Verses”, The Danish Cartoons and the Hebdo Cartoons we understand that freedom of speech has a price. Responsible people should weigh the consequences of their conduct – action and speech. We should learn from these affairs, take offence seriously, acknowledge the fallacy of universalism and the reality of globalisation where speech in a liberal part of the world may provoke negative and violent reaction worldwide. We should fight for our principles while being cognizant of the price tag which might be high and bloody. Our freedoms should always be tempered by social responsibility.
Over the last three decades the European Court of Human Rights has routinely upheld convictions by national courts for blasphemous expression. Although merely criticizing or denying religious beliefs is protected by the European Convention, the Court has observed that ‘abusive attacks’ on religious symbols may warrant punishment by the national authorities. In the view of the Court, provocative anti-religious expression could be conceived as a ‘malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance’, and may endanger ‘religious peace’. This paper critically examines the Court’s approach to blasphemy, offense, and free expression in a democracy.
Whether in the form of an updated blasphemy law, a broadly interpreted hate speech law, or a law directly aimed at preventing insult to religious beliefs or practices, there continues to be some support for a ban on the ridicule or intemperate criticism of religion, in order to protect religious believers from insult to their deepest convictions. A ban on such criticism may be seen as a middle position that recognizes that religious adherence is both a personal commitment to certain truths that must be open to debate and criticism, but also a cultural identity that should be treated with respect. This middle ground, however, is unworkable for several reasons.