Banning Hate Speech doesn’t work and makes racism worse

On Saturday, a synagogue in California was attacked by an apparently self-professed homicidal racist. The attacker has supposedly explicitly said that he was partly inspired by the xenophobic mass-murderers responsible for the mosque attacks in New Zealand last month. Since that attack, New Zealand has been debating strengthening their hate speech laws. Now, the debate over whether America should create hate-speech laws at all has been reinvigorated.

If the intent of censoring public speech is to prevent violence then hate-speech laws are at best an ineffective tool. At worst, they enable the conspiracy-minded and activate their violent tendencies, making bigotry worse. For many reasons, America should not criminalize hate speech, but chiefly because censorship does not accomplish what it’s supposed to: make fewer racists. Hate speech laws don’t work. At all.

There are many unintended negative consequences of hate speech laws that demonstrate what a bad idea they are. It should be no surprise that hate speech laws would be used to punish people that say mean things to police. Human Rights Watch has been warning for years that bans on hate speech in social media would lead to political censorship and repression; that well-intended hate-speech laws would be used in places like Russia to intimidate and imprison political dissenters was entirely predictable. Slippery slope free-speech Cassandras claimed moral victory when an Englishman was arrested and convicted of a hate crime after posting a video of his pug giving a Nazi salute. This hopefully represents the zenith of absurd hate speech arrests but probably not.

Out of the many results of hate speech laws, one is curiously and conspicuously absent: fewer racists and less violence. European bans on hate speech haven’t prevented systemic and documented anti-black and anti-African bias across the EU. Bans on hate speech haven’t stopped or even slowed the rising wave of anti-Semitic attacks in nearly every European nation. Europe’s speech censors aren’t slowing the increasingly pervasive xenophobia you can find across the continent. Hate speech laws don’t result in less hate.

Image courtesy the ABA

Not only do hate speech laws not produce less racism and fewer xenophobes they may in fact make things worse on that front as well. Bans on hate speech don’t accomplish anything except push racists into their own little unmonitored corners of society. They fester, growing into resentment and developing a politically palatable message until they drip their influence into the media, government, and eventually violence on the streets. Getting arrested, convicted, and/or imprisoned for hate speech violations gave Nazi agitators credibility among their followers (yes, Weimar Germany really did have hate speech laws) and is doing the same for everyone from Milo Yiannopoulos to militant Islamists today. Punishing hate speech violators just makes free speech martyrs.

Hate speech is free speech. It is the only free speech. Speech you dislike is the only type of speech that requires protecting because nobody calls for restricting speech they agree with. Banning hate speech is not only easily abused by police, used for widespread oppression by governments around the world, and prone to comical excesses but it just doesn’t work as advertised. Valuing free speech means accepting hate speech because there aren’t any good arguments for banning hate speech.

Thomas Brown is a history teacher and recovering political consultant hiding out in the American South. He is also managing editor of The Swamp and has been published in The Bipartisan Press, Alaska Native News, GEN, Human Events, Times of Israel, Dialogue & Discourse. Argue with him on Twitter: @reallythistoo.

Originally published at on April 28, 2019.

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