Free speech and hate speech by Susan Grimsdell

Absence of respect

It’s interesting that those who clamour for the right to say anything they want are almost always people who want to say cruel hateful things about other people.  They demand the “freedom” to spew out whatever racist, sexist, anti-semitic, anti-gay messages they want, whether in person or on social media.  I’ve never heard anyone shout out for the right to express kind, generous, tolerant, respectful messages. 

We should remember how damaging hate speech is, and if anyone doesn’t know how to identify hate speech, the simple test is – is it respectful of its target or not.  Anyone who can’t tell whether or not words are respectful is in trouble, in my opinion.   

Presence of hate

In the 1930s, as Hitler was increasing his influence, he ranted again and again about Jewish people, inciting the crowds to hate them.  He was only using words – using his right to freedom of speech, and what’s wrong with that we might ask.  What’s wrong is that his words were hateful.  They were not respectful, they were vicious and, also, they were not true.  His characterisation of Jewish people was completely false.  Yet hearing his words time and again, and seeing everyone else accepting the messages, the listening crowds absorbed them, internalised them. Hitler’s view became their own view.  When the time came for actual violence, the German people were primed and ready, and we all know the result. 

There are countless examples throughout history of powerful speakers influencing others to believe what they want them to believe, and then to act on those beliefs.  In fact, it’s the story of world history.  We might think people who get sucked in to the words of influential speakers are like sheep – but we are all like sheep, all of us are susceptible to orators who speak with passion, no matter what they say.  Jesus was such a leader, speaking a message of love, but too often the message is one of hate.  We have to recognise that and reject it.  Hate speech is not harmless, not a “right” deserving of respect.  It’s without exception destructive, and always ends with cruelty.  There’s no place for it in a decent society.  

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