The freedom of free speech is one of the core principles of democracies. In the United States, it is one of the most debated, most protected, and most valued liberties.
But with this great liberty rears the ugly side of free speech: hate speech.
What is hate speech?
As defined by the American Bar Association, it is “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”
But what falls into the buckets of offensive speech and downright hate speech? And who determines these buckets? In today’s society, these questions have become even more common.
The free speech debate is alive and well.
These questions regarding this civic liberty are hotly contested and debated in our public sphere today. There are arguments that “political correctness” in the United States may categorize certain statements too loosely as hate speech. On the other hand, there are arguments that this vitriol is increasingly proving to be dangerous and must be confronted.
In either case, the problem with this hateful speech is a growing concern. When free speech turns to hate speech, the vitriol can act as a catalyst for violence, unrest, and further victimization. Often, it can incite xenophobic acts, violent hate crimes, and even genocide.
Tackling hate speech is imperative.
In the newly launched Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Foreign Affairs, the Center aims to tackle moral conflict and hate speech on a global sphere throughout this year. In its first research publication, the ugly side of this civic liberty is critically examined within the sphere of democracy, especially its interfaith-related ramifications.
Democracies often promote themselves as havens of free speech. However, there are times when free speech provides a shield for protected hate speech. Often shrouded in the guise of patriotism, this hate speech has the potential of inciting violence, which can serve as the catalyst for governments to behave in ways that further victimize the targets of the verbal vitriol. This ripple effect is currently being witnessed on a global platform as various entities in the west incite Islamic radicals to violence with “hate speech,” and receive protection from Western governments that use conflict as an excuse to expand their imperialistic agendas that negatively impact the Muslim world—the vast majority of whom desire peace.
Critically analyzing this speech is crucial to navigate today’s intersectional and global environment. And realizing when free speech turns into hate speech is the first step in doing so.