Offensive Speech, Religion, and the Limits of the Law

ISBN : 9780198758440

Nicholas Hatzis
208 Pages
153 x 234 mm
Pub date
May 2021
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Is the government ever justified in restricting offensive speech? This question has become particularly important in relation to communications which offend religious sensibilities. It is often argued that insulting a person's beliefs is tantamount to disrespecting the believer; that insults are a form of hatred or intolerance; that the right to religious freedom includes a more specific right not to be insulted in one's beliefs; that religious minorities have a particularly strong claim to be protected from offence; and that censorship of offensive speech is necessary for the prevention of social disorder and violence. None of those arguments is convincing. Drawing on law and philosophy, this book argues that there is no moral right to be protected from offence and that, while freedom of religion is an important right that grounds negative and positive obligations for the state, it is unpersuasive to interpret constitutional and human rights provisions as including a right not to be caused offence. Rather, we have good reasons to think of public discourse as a space for the expression of all viewpoints about the ethical life, including those which some will find offensive. This is necessary to sustain a society's capacity for self-reflection and change.


1 The Nature of Offence
2 Reasons for State Action
3 Responses to Offensive Speech
4 Religious Speech in Public Discourse
5 Blasphemy and Defamation of Religions
6 Discrimination and Toleration

About the author: 

Nicholas Hatzis is senior lecturer in law at City, University of London. Previously, he was research fellow at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford and referendaire at the Court of Justice of the European Union.

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