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Hate Speech

  1. Susan Brison

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee771

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Brison, S. 2013. Hate Speech. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Hate speech is speech that vilifies, harasses, intimidates, or incites hatred toward an individual or group on the basis of a characteristic such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. The word “speech” here refers not only to verbal inscriptions and utterances, but also to pictorial representations and symbols, such as swastikas and Ku Klux Klan masks, and expressive acts, such as cross-burning and the defacing of mosques (see Speech, Freedom of). While most people acknowledge that hate speech is often offensive and sometimes harmful, there is considerable debate about whether it is so harmful that it should be legally restricted (see Harm; Offense). In the United States, hate speech is generally considered protected speech, under the free speech clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution, and most Anglo-American philosophical writing about hate speech has discussed whether – and, if so, why – this position is justified. Although the right to freedom of expression, including the right to engage in hate speech, is widely considered in the United States to be a fundamental human right of virtually paramount value, in other countries, free speech rights are constrained by other rights, such as the rights to dignity, respect, and equality; and laws restricting hate speech, such as speech inciting racial hatred and Holocaust denial, are relatively uncontroversial (Bollinger 1986; Schauer 2005; see Civil Rights; Rights).


  • law;
  • legal and political;
  • media ethics;
  • practical (applied) ethics;
  • prejudice;
  • race and ethnicity;
  • hate speech