What is hate speech?
Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.
This on first glance may look like a very obvious and straight forward definition and a great idea. I mean who wouldn’t want to challenge hateful speech. However, when we look at it in greater detail it’s not as simple as we first thought. From 2008 the EU made a decision to combat racism and xenophobia. All western European countries now have hate-speech laws. The European concept of freedom of expression thus prohibits certain content viewpoints, whereas, with certain exceptions, other countries are generally concerned solely with direct provocation which usually has the consequences of explicit acts of lawlessness towards another person. Not so long ago in the past European states and the U.S. had a common view that human rights should be the priority rather than restraining freedom of expression.
However, many people do possess good intentions in their battle against ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘homophobia’ etc… the roots of ‘anti hate speech laws’ are anything but well meaning. The introductions of laws that prohibit free speech were welcomed with open arms and actively promoted by the Soviet Union and various other countries during the previous century. They used these laws to their full advantage to block any opposing viewpoints. Currently we can see this happening in places like North Korea (which is barely ever criticized by many university students along with Fidel Castro which I will explain about later).
Nevertheless it’s not a new concept, only confined to the walls of the 20th century. In fact if we look a little further back in history we can see that even in the expansive Roman Empire there were a great many emperors who sought to reduce free speech to nothing more than a memory in people’s minds. The quest for freedom and revelation is also closely followed by the quest for power and control over people’s minds as the ultimatum.
However, my goal is not to produce a 10,000 word essay on the history and the ins and outs of communism, facism, hate speech and free speech but rather to give you my insights as to what this means for Christians today. As you can see ‘hate speech’ is extremely loosely designed but this is not without a purpose. If the elite, lobby groups and central government can close down opposing views then it gives them the reign on entering even the most private parts of our daily lives. God on the other hand gives us the freedom to choose Him or not. He is the ultimate advocate for free speech. When we curse him or throw insults at our neighbours He doesn’t smite us down and give us a sentence. He gives us chance after chance. In fact He gives us our whole lives as an opportunity to choose him. He waits patiently seeing something beautiful in each of us regardless of our faults.
“But what about those people who offend, threaten or insult different minority groups?” you say. “Shouldn’t they be punished?”. The problem is stopping judging them doesn’t stop at just that and this view seeks to in fact judge the ‘other’. It is an order instead of an opinion because instead of living out your life and not judging people you are imposing this on others. This is a very hypercritical stance. While I certainly don’t think people should go around insulting one another and inciting hatred (I am talking about speech and not physical violence which should never be condoned) these people unfortunately should have the right as you do to express an opinion. However, in the majority of times ‘hate speech’ is used to defend a stance where one person is offended by something the other person has said. We as human beings do not have the right not be offended because we choose offense with our will and if we choose offense then perhaps half of the problem is with us and we have things we need to loosen from our souls.
The Oxford Dictionary has chosen “post-truth” as its word of the year for 2016. “Post-truth” is defined as a culture where “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. This illustrates to us that people and especially young people today are much more likely to base their opinion on how they are feeling in that moment than on the relevance of the statement or its truth. However, we can see that this has drastic consequences for free speech and it’s becoming more and more common here in the UK to shut down opposing viewpoints. As Christians our speech should always be full of light and love but it should be based on God’s truths. Unfortunately the truth can and will offend people. It is true that a statement you hear in the morning may not offend you but at the end of a long, stressful and demanding day that same statement might make you extremely irate. We need to be careful that we always listen to people’s opinions and respect the individual’s right to free speech but we ourselves should never be afraid to speak the truth in love.
Finally, the reality is one person’s words may be another person’s door to freedom or they may be an offensive stream of drivel. We cannot go around loosely defining words due to our current feelings. Feelings are deceptive. I know many people who have been in toxic and abusive relationships who were trapped there because of their ‘feelings’. Feelings can also be wonderful too and a great way to connect with God. However, we should always make sure our faith is defined by the Truth.
We are living in a world where the darkness will manifest in greater ways but there is much hope. In the bible it promises “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” John 1:5 (NIV). This means that whatever happens the light will always be greater and thus we should always speak out of hope and not fear. As the body of Christ it’s time to take up our mantle and follow him speaking in love and truth to a confused and suffering world.
Ankhi Das (2016) found at www.indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/best-antidote-to-fake-news-and-hate-speech-is-more-speech-4452346/
Jacob Mchangama (2011) found at www.hoover.org/research/sordid-origin-hate-speech-laws