There is no “line” between free speech and hate speech – nor should there be
But the LA Times thinks there is as it states in its piece about the Garland, TX attack by Islamists:
The Garland attack refocused public attention on the fine line between free speech and hate speech in the ideological struggle between radical Islam and the West.
Hate to break it to them but what they categorize as “hate speech” is a subset of “free speech”.
Of course the term is now in popular use all across the world, but it has very interesting and nasty origin as the Hoover Institution discusses here.
The origin of the term comes from the Soviet Union and its satellites in arguments about the 1948 UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (udhr). The arguments during its drafting and particularly the area concerning freedom of speech showed the world the totalitarian concept of “free speech” as articulated by the USSR and its satellites.
The drafting history of the protection of the freedom of expression in the udhr does not leave any doubt that the dominant force behind the attempt to adopt an obligation to restrict this right under human rights law was the Soviet Union. On the other hand, led by the U.S. and uk, the vast majority of Western democracies, albeit with differences in emphasis, sought to guarantee a wide protection of freedom of expression and in particular to avoid any explicit obligation upon states to restrict this right.
In particular the USSR sought language that addressed “hate”:
The first draft was limited to the prohibition of “any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hostility that constitutes an incitement to violence.” However, a number of countries led by the Soviet Union were adamant that incitement to violence was insufficient, and sought a broader prohibition against “incitement to hatred.” Poland expressed dissatisfaction with a provision only prohibiting incitement to violence, since it did not tackle “the root of the evil,” and worried that freedom of expression could be abused and “contribute decisively to the elimination of all freedoms and rights.” The Yugoslav representative thought it important to “suppress manifestations of hatred which, even without leading to violence, constituted a degradation of human dignity and a violation of human rights.”
Of course we all know how loosely such a term as “hate” can be interpreted and how arbitrarily it can be applied, especially by a state bent on oppression of the opposition. And, of course, that was the point. The totalitarian regimes were looking for the blessing of the UDHR to sanction their planned oppression.
Eleanor Roosevelt found the language “extremely dangerous” and warned against provisions “likely to be exploited by totalitarian States for the purpose of rendering the other articles null and void.” She also feared that the provision “would encourage governments to punish all criticism under the guise of protecting against religious or national hostility.” Roosevelt’s concern was shared by, among others, the five Nordic countries. Sweden argued that “the effective prophylaxis lay in free discussion, information, and education,” and that “fanatical persecution” should be countered with “free discussion, information and debate”. Australia warned that “people could not be legislated into morality.” Furthermore, it noted that “the remedy might be worse than the evil it sought to remove.” The uk representative stated that “the power of democracy to combat propaganda lay . . . in the ability of its citizens to arrive at reasoned decisions in the face of conflicting appeals.” When challenged by the Soviet Union, the uk representative pointed out that during World War II, Hitler’s Mein Kampf had not been banned and was readily available in the uk, and that its government “would maintain and fight for its conception of liberty as resolutely as it had fought against Hitler.”
Of course, at the time this was being discussed, the West was adamantly against the restrictions that the Soviets were seeking, i.e. including “hate speech” as a legitimate reason to limit speech. They clearly understood the implications of such restrictions and how they could and most likely would be used.
Fast forward to today:
All western european countries have hate-speech laws. In 2008, the eu adopted a framework decision on “Combating Racism and Xenophobia” that obliged all member states to criminalize certain forms of hate speech. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Supreme Court of the United States has gradually increased and consolidated the protection of hate speech under the First Amendment. The European concept of freedom of expression thus prohibits certain content and viewpoints, whereas, with certain exceptions, the American concept is generally concerned solely with direct incitement likely to result in overt acts of lawlessness.
So, in essence, Europe has capitulated to Soviet demands a few decades after the communist nation ceased to exist. It apparently buys into the notion that that state has the right to limit speech if hateful and reserves to itself the right to define what is or isn’t hate. Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, was right – such laws are “likely to be exploited by totalitarian States for the purposes of rendering” free speech “null and void”. That’s precisely what totalitarian regimes always do, with or without the blessing of a UDHR. They are going to control speech and they’re going to suppress as “hateful” anything they don’t agree with.
Interestingly it was a representative from Columbia who said it best:
Punishing ideas, whatever they may be, is to aid and abet tyranny, and leads to the abuse of power . . . As far as we are concerned and as far as democracy is concerned, ideas should be fought with ideas and reasons; theories must be refuted by arguments and not by the scaffold, prison, exile, confiscation, or fines.
Kirsten Powers points out that we’re slowly drifting toward tyranny when she talks about how it once was on the college campus and how it is now. Contrary ideas are now characterized as “violence” and intolerance to those ideas is rampant for some. Interestingly, for the most part, those who would ban speech they disagree with mostly find themselves on the left side of the political spectrum, which, at least, is historically consistent. They’re heirs to the Soviet Union’s attempts to oppress free speech.
They must be very proud.