The Congress of Vienna, Jean Godefroy

Hate Speech and Double Standards

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Thomas M. Keck

1.1 (2016)

Pages 95-122


Many European states ban the public expression of hateful speech directed at racial and religious minorities, and an increasing number do so for anti-gay speech as well. These laws have been subjected to a wide range of legal, philosophical, and empirical investigation, but this paper explores one potential cost that has not received much attention in the literature. Statutory bans on hate speech leave democratic societies with a Hobson’s choice. If those societies ban incitements of hatred against some vulnerable groups, they will inevitably face parallel demands for protection of other such groups. If they accede to those demands, they will impose an ever-tightening vice on incontrovertible free expression values; if they do not, they will send clear signals of unequal citizenship to those groups excluded from the laws’ protection. This paper elaborates this dilemma via exploration of a range of contemporary European legal responses to homophobic and Islamophobic speech.