Yesterday’s NY Times had an article, prompted by a case in Canada, comparing our free speech constitutional guarantees with the more restricted laws of many other countries, including Canada and several European nations, where “hate speech” is considered and can be prosecuted as a crime. How hate-speech is constitutionally or legally defined is left very vague in the article, but examples are given:
Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and India all have laws or have signed international conventions banning hate speech. Israel and France forbid the sale of Nazi items like swastikas and flags. It is a crime to deny the Holocaust in Canada, Germany and France.
The article notes that some U.S. lawyers are beginning to question the nearly total freedom allowed under our Constitution; it cites only one example, however:
It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”
The Times article ends with this paragraph:
What we’re learning here is really the bedrock difference between the United States and the countries that are in a broad sense its legal cousins,” Mr. [Mark] Steyn added. “Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion. The First Amendment really does distinguish the U.S., not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world.”