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Should We Separate Hate Speech From Freedom of Speech?

If a Canadian magazine publishes an article about the threat Islam places on Western values in a mocking or biting tone — but not any different from what people read on the Internet — is the reaction any different in Canada than it is in the US? Yes. The magazine that published the critical article is now facing trial to decide if it violated a provincial hate-speech law.

The battle between what is hate speech and what is free is complicated in Canada.
In the US the debate has been settled. The First Amendment allows the media to say anything about minority groups and religions — even false, provocative, or hateful things — without legal consequences.

Speech laws in Canada stem from a desire to promote societal harmony. A Canadian human rights commissioner said of the article, "in Canada, the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, nor should it be. By portraying Muslims as all sharing the same negative characteristics, including being a threat to "the West," this explicit expression of Islamophobia further perpetuates and promotes prejudice toward Muslims and others."

One of the article's authors says, "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. Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion. The First Amendment really does distinguish the US, not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world."

Is regulation for the sake of harmony a good idea? Should there be a line drawn between hate speech and free speech?


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