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Anastasia-Maria Hountalas

Anastasia-Maria Hountalas: Three Bares Hate Speech

The recent string of suicides by gay teenagers in the United States has sparked a debate over hate speech and limitations to freedom of expression. This discussion is fueled in no small part by radical public figures such as right-wing lawyer and writer Ann Coulter, and Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church. Their messages are shocking. In response to the tragedy, Phelps gave a sermon at his church in Topeka, Kansas lashing out at news anchor Anderson Cooper for promoting ‘Wear Purple Day’ in support of LGBT youth, saying, “Cooper, like all f*gs and f*g-enablers, labors under the Satanic delusion that God loves everybody…” This speech is undeniably upsetting, but it speaks to a larger and more pressing issue: what are the legal limitations on hate speech?Hate laws and punishments vary tremendously according to country. In Canada, every citizen is guaranteed the right to “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression” under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, Canadians also have the “right to life, liberty and security” and are protected by the law “without discrimination.” Evidently, these laws can come into direct conflict. So when is free speech too free?The subject is further legislated in the Canadian Criminal Code. Here, anyone who “incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace” is guilty of hate speech. According to a CBC report on hate crimes, “sexual orientation” was added to the Criminal Code as an identifiable group in 2004.Therefore, according to Canadian law, freedom of speech is a fundamental right until it threatens to disturb the peace. In this case—if he were in Canada—Fred Phelps would be guilty of hate speech. But what about similar incidents that do not “disturb the peace?” What… Read More