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Should Hate Speech Like John Galliano’s Be Illegal In The U.S.?

Submitted by on September 18, 2011 – 2:45 pm7 Comments

In a French courtroom last week, Fashion designer John Galliano was found guilty of making “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity.” But could such a case ever happen in the U.S.?

The charges stemmed from an incident that occurred in a Paris bar, where Galliano allegedly harrassed a woman for nearly an hour, calling her a “fucking ugly Jewish bitch.” A video shot at the same bar later surfaced, showing Galliano making more anti-Jewish statements, and declaring, “I love Hitler.”

The British-born designer claimed that he did not remember any of the incidents due to a “triple addiction” to alcohol, sleeping pills and Valium. Due to his apology during the trial, Galliano was sentenced only to pay court fees for the plantiffs, and a symbolic sum to each.

In the wake of The Holocaust, many European nations outlawed public hate speech, even making Holocaust denial a crime. In an interview with NPR, Yale University professor Charles Asher Small explains that hate speech doesn’t even have to contain a threat; it’s simply “speech that advocates genocide or inciting hatred against an identifiable group.” Canada and Mexico have also instated similar protections against hate speech.

But the U.S. has a drastically different history, with activists from all across the political spectrum traditionally defending the free speech rights of even the most hateful groups, unless statements immediately provoke violence. Just last May, the Supreme Court decided nearly unanimously in favor of a Kansas hate group that protests the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, holding signs that read “You’re Going To Hell,” and “God Hates The USA.” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the court must protect “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

The US is “definitely the exception” among nations on hate speech, said Small.

What do you think? Is hate speech the acceptable price we pay for free speech?

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