"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Responsible speech
Whenever someone is criticized for saying outrageous things, whether it is Ann Coulter or Michael Moore (not that I equate the two) or even Canadian Cynic, (read more than just the linked initial post and comments, this one went on for a while)the defense is usually that in a free society we all have a right to free speech. True enough, but there are limits on that speech - the old standby of "shouting fire in crowded theatre" being one limit, slander, uttering threats and perjury being others. The notion that there should be limits on what is referred to as hate speech has been denied in the United States but has taken hold in Canada.
From the CBC backgrounder:


(1) Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.


Wilful promotion of hatred

(2) Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.


(1) Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.Wilful promotion of hatred


(2) Every one who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.


Short version: It is okay to hate a given group-- say left-handed, redheaded Straussian economists and lawyers-- it is even okay to tell your friends in the course of conversation that you think they should all be horsewhipped. But when you step up on a soapbox, electronic or actual, and advocate horsewhipping any group of people, it is officially naughty - UNLESS your statements are truthful or the expression of a religious opinion.


I'm not sure how the idea of a truthful statement comes into this as I'm not sure how one would justify genocide - - does this mean it is okay to say "We should kill all the caucasians in North America because white North Americans caused and sponsored the slave trade and committed genocide against the First Nations' people?" --I'm guessing the answer is probably no, you could probably denounce whitey until you turn blue in the face, but I suspect calling for people to be killed would, or at least should in my book, land you in trouble. The last part seems to mean it is okay to advocate murder if Allah/Jesus/The Flying Spagetti Monster says you should kill all the Infidels/Gays/Republican Klansmen. And the only reason its is there is that Christian activists demanded that they be allowed to denounce gays and promote hatred against them.


Effort to bring in a similar law in the U.S. have been opposed by free speech activists, civil libertarians and Fundementalist Christians. The first two groups argue on constitutional grounds that freedom of speech should be absolute. The third don't want anyone stopping them from hating who they want to and encouraging others to do likewise.


I have some sympathy for the arguments put forward by the first two groups, but the third group, well, they should be proud of what they've accomplished so far on the ground.


It may be that by pointing out the role of churches in promoting violence I am promulgating hatred against religious people, but I think I can safely fall back on the defence provided for in the Canadian Hate crimes act that everything I'm saying is true. What was done can be proved and a direct link can be show between misdeeds by individuals and the speech of religious organizations.

Let me be clear--I don't think that all religious people are bloodthirsty radical zealots, but there are, as in any mass movement, a few who go to extremes. My complaint is that by lobbying for the right to keep promoting hatred against groups based religious opinion, the more mainstream organizations provide cover, encouragement and legitimacy to the extremists.


Right now the Catholic church and the Fundemantalist Born-Again churches agree that abortionist are evil and that God hates homosexuals. The Pope recently reminded Catholics of the longstanding Church doctrine that Roman Catholicism is the only legitimate form of Christianity and that the rest of the so-called Christian churches are just a bunch of misguided heathens. Would it be a major stretch to imagine the Catholic church lapsing back into its old practices of encouraging violent anti-Semitism, or for the Mormon Church of Latter Day Saints to go back to preaching that those of African heritage are inferior? Both positions would be protected under Canada's hate crime laws under the exception for "religious opinion".


Organized religion does a lot of good in Western society in terms of charitable works. Churches provide a supportive community for their members and exert a form of social control over their members. So do motorcycle gangs, though their aims and methods may differ somewhat. It is time that churches were treated like any other organization. They should not be excused from paying taxes, nor excused for spreading hate.

2 comments:

jj said...

Oh, well done. Well said.

A big reason that hate speech hasn't just dissolved into the margins of society where nobody has to hear it is the religious excuse. A lot of people spew bigotry and think it's fine to do so under the guise of "religious freedom"; it's not even so much a freedom of speech issue as a "freedom of religion" issue.

Unfortunately, when they're charged with hate speech, it becomes a freedom of speech issue for all of us. But there are limits on what society has to endure in the interest of freedom of speech, even I will admit to that.

Grog said...

Interesting ... I've been following the Boissoin hearings in Calgary this past week quite closely.

Even Alberta's government (which has been historically resistant to any protection for GLBT people) has stated: "It's clear from case law that freedom of political expression and freedom of religious expression is bounded by limitation and protection of public safety, not that freedom of expression trumps any other right."