CRF Blog

The Harm in Hate Speech

by Bill Hayes

In The Harm in Hate Speech, law and politics professor Jeremy Waldron argues that hate speech should be punished. The review in the New York Times Book Review begs to differ.

Waldron begins with the premise that in a “well-ordered society” not only must all people be protected by the law; they are entitled to live in confidence of this protection. “Each person … should be able to go about his or her business, with the assurance that there will be no need to face hostility, violence, discrimination or exclusion by others.” Hate speech undermines this essential public good. “When a society is defaced with anti-Semitic signage, burning crosses and defamatory racial leaflets,” Waldron says, this assurance of security “evaporates. A vigilant police force and a Justice Department may still keep people from being attacked or excluded,” but the objects of hate speech are deprived of the assurance that the society regards them as people of equal dignity. [more]