Hate Speech Definition: What is it?
How is hate speech defined? A definition includes: “speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”1 Another source defines hate speech as “speech not protected by the First Amendment (U.S.) because it is intended to foster actions against individuals or groups based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, place of national origin, or other improper classification.”2
There is no doubt that words can hurt or be offensive, so it seems that according to the legal definition, labeling something as “hate speech” is based on “intent.” Hate speech can be by way of the spoken word, the written word, or gestures that promote or incite violence or illegal actions toward its victim. In general, before someone can be accused of hate speech, the "harmful" words must be judged according to "intent."
To determine “intent,” don’t we have to know the predisposition of the person who has said what is taken as offensive? Nevertheless, it has become necessary to institute laws in many nations that forbid hate speech against various people or groups. These laws have some variance from country to country.
Hate Speech Definition: Examples World-Wide
Hate speech has targeted many people and groups of people around the world for centuries. Perhaps the most targeted throughout history have included those of African descent and the Jewish people. However, not far behind them there have been extreme prejudices aimed at women, the poor, handicapped, and most recently we see an increase in hate speech toward Christians.
History is full of people with disdain for anyone different than them. What happened to biblical sayings like, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31)? Whether a person is religious or not, these are good words to live by.
Hate Speech Definition: Controversy on What Qualifies
The controversy on hate speech vs. freedom of speech is ongoing. Is it possible that in today’s world of tolerance/intolerance, that in some instances people are perhaps more thin-skinned and therefore are possibly more easily offended?
Much of so-called hate speech is also terribly misinterpreted. For instance, the term homophobic is often applied to anyone who is opposed to the gay life-style. When in fact, most who speak against it are not at all phobic (fearful) of homosexuals, but are speaking in respect to their faith and what God says about the homosexual lifestyle. Such was the case in an instance of Kirk Cameron. While stating his beliefs based on his Christian faith, he was in turn the recipient of threatening hate speech.3
Remember the children’s verse that says “sticks and stones may break my bones; but words will never hurt me”? Or is there an alternative purpose in crying “hate speech”? Political correctness has also entered in the debate. One resource says, “Critics have argued that the term ‘hate speech’ is a modern example of Newspeak [George Orwell’s], used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in a rush to appear political correct.”4 We often see that the ones most vocal about the ills of hate speech are themselves the most guilty of intolerant hate speech.
What is the answer? Having a respect or love for our fellow humans comes only from following the principles of a loving God. He tells us to love our neighbors. In fact the phrase is in the Bible no less than seven times5, so it is of great importance! This command is second only to loving God with all your heart (Mark 12:29-31).