Freedom of expression and hatred of religion
Thompson, S. print (2012) Freedom of expression and hatred of religion. Ethnicities, 12 (2). pp. 215-232. ISSN 1468-7968
Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1468796811431298
The UK’s Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 makes it an offence to deliberately stir up hatred against people on religious grounds. For its supporters, the Act offers necessary protection to a range of groups which are vulnerable to the harmful effects of incitement of hatred against them. For its critics, by contrast, the offence it creates is an illegitimate restriction on freedom of expression. In the first half of this article, I shall examine four particular aspects of the offence of incitement to hatred, namely the role of religious beliefs, the notion of threatening words or behaviour, the need to prove intention, and the protection of freedom of expression. Here it will be shown that the Act was undermined by the legislators’ desire to appease the critics who were concerned about its effects on freedom of expression. In the second half of this article, I shall argue that it is possible to strengthen the offence of incitement to religious hatred, without threatening legitimate freedom of expression. In order to make this argument, I shall utilise Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition. Put in his terms, my thesis is that, since incitement to religious hatred may cause one or more harms of misrecognition, it may in some instances be legitimately restricted. My conclusion will be that placing this constraint on freedom of expression is one way, amongst numerous others, in which ethno-religious diversity may be appropriately accommodated.
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