Hate Speech

Questions about the ethics and constitutionality of hate speech have been discussed for over 75 years. Those who justify or defend the right to verbally abuse others often point to the value of unfettered free speech. Those who condemn such abuse point to the harm done to its victims. In a series of cases from the 1930s to the present, the Supreme Court gradually broadened the range of speech protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. It has usually, but not always, regarded hate speech as protected speech.

The constitutional debate seemed to be settled until the 1980s when it reappeared. A series of incidents on college campuses led many schools to adopt speech and conduct codes that forbade certain kinds of abusive language such as racial slurs. A number of articles and books defended not only campus speech codes but also legislation to restrict such speech in society at large. The issues are complex. Competent moral philosophers and legal scholars reach very different conclusions. Whether we view the issues as legal or constitutional questions, the same division occurs. Intelligent, humane, well-informed people differ.

Developing a reasoned view on the ethics of hate speech requires carefully considering a network of concepts, issues, and arguments. Ariadne offers one path through that network. The path takes the form of a dialogue among six speakers. Click BEGIN HERE to go to the beginning of the dialogue, or choose one of the other options below.

BEGIN HERE to follow Ariadne's Thread.


Remember, this is a complex issue. Ariadne's Thread is only a guide to some of its pathways. As always, the arguments on Ariadne have their own limitations of perspective. Several of the books in the bibliography are anthologies that include moral arguments on different sides of the issues. Some take perspectives that are not well represented in Ariadne's text. You may find them useful in developing your views.

Your ideas are welcome. Anyone using this site can send their reactions to Ariadne by email. You can also submit arguments and counter-arguments (or comments on existing arguments) for inclusion in the text. If you do submit an argument or comment, please suggest where you think it would best fit into the existing text. All submissions will be reviewed. If accepted, the name of the author will be acknowledged in the text.

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