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Putting Faith in Hate




Speaker: Professor Richard Moon, Windsor Law, University of Windsor

Many recent hate speech cases in Canada and elsewhere, or at least many of the high profile cases, involve religion either as the source of views that are alleged to be hateful or as the subject of such views and sometimes, of course, as both the source and subject of these views. These cases are controversial for the same reason that all hate speech cases are controversial. There is significant disagreement in the community about whether or to what extent the restriction of hate speech can be reconciled with the public commitment to freedom of expression.

There is, however, another reason why hate speech cases involving religion are so difficult or contentious, which has to do with our conception of religious adherence or membership. Religious adherence is often viewed as a personal commitment to a set of beliefs about what is true or right. Yet religious commitment is also viewed as deeply rooted -- as a form of cultural identity. In hate speech regulation a distinction is generally made between attacks on the individual/group, which if sufficiently hateful or extreme may amount to hate speech, and attacks on the individual’s or group’s beliefs, which must be open to debate, even that which is harsh and intemperate. However, our complex conception of religious adherence or membership – as both personal choice/judgment and cultural identity – complicates this distinction in two ways. The first complication has to do with the attribution of belief to the members of a religious group. The complex connection between the individual and her/his religious belief system, as both a matter of identity and judgment, may sometimes make it difficult to determine when an attack is on the believer and when it is on the beliefs she/he holds. The second difficulty with this distinction between belief (which must remain open to challenge) and believer (who should be protected from hateful expression) is that, because religious beliefs are deeply held, and concern that which is sacred, an attack on the individual’s beliefs, on the beliefs she/he actually holds, may be experienced by the believer very deeply and personally. Because religious beliefs lie at the core of the individual’s identity, it is sometimes said that these beliefs should be insulated from ridicule or intemperate criticism.

A ban on intemperate criticism may be seen as a middle position that recognizes that religious adherence is both a personal commitment to certain truths that must be subject to debate and criticism, but also an aspect of the individual’s identity that should be treated with respect. This middle ground, however, is unworkable for several reasons. First, it is difficult to define enforceable standards of civility in public discourse, and nearly impossible to do so when religion is the subject of debate. Second, if a restriction on intemperate criticism of religious belief rests on the idea that religion is deeply rooted, we might question whether temperate or reasoned critique of religion is likely to have any impact and might instead see a greater role for ridicule or intemperate criticism. Third, religious beliefs often have public implications and so must be subject to criticism that is deeply felt and sometimes very harsh.

Room DLG09, Rhind Building, City University London

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When and where

1.00pm - 3.00pmMonday 2nd November 2015

DLG09 Rhind Building City, University of London Rhind Building London EC1R 0JD United Kingdom

Contact Details

Dr Enrico Bonadio

Senior Lecturer in Law

City, University of London
Northampton Square
United Kingdom
020 7040 8263

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