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Self-Respect, Domination and Religiously Offensive Speech

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Abstract

Religiously offensive speech, i.e. speech that offends members of religious groups, especially religious minorities, is on the rise in western liberal democracies, particularly following the recent wave of right-wing populism in the UK, the US and beyond. But when is such speech wrongful? This paper argues that the wrongfulness of some religiously offensive speech does not depend on some intrinsic feature of it, or on the subjective reaction of its targets. Instead, such wrongfulness depends on the fact that religiously offensive speech normally takes place against the background of enduring social injustices suffered by certain minorities, for example religious discrimination (which it at the same time compounds). In that context, we argue, religiously offensive speech is wrongful when it disables its victims from maintaining an adequately respectful relationship to themselves, and sets back their freedom through domination. Recognizing the wrongfulness of some religiously offensive speech, however, need not entail endorsing its legal regulation all things considered. The paper therefore illustrates different available forms of intervention, ranging from civil law action to state support for the victims of such speech and long-term programmes of citizenship education.
Self-Respect, Domination and Religiously
Offensive Speech
Matteo Bonotti
1
&Jonathan Seglow
2
Published online: 29 May 2019
#Springer Nature B.V. 2019
Abstract
Religiously offensive speech, i.e. speech that offends members of religious groups, especially
religious minorities, is on the rise in western liberal democracies, particularly following the
recent wave of right-wing populism in the UK, the US and beyond. But when is such speech
wrongful? This paper argues that the wrongfulness of some religiously offensive speech does
not depend on some intrinsic feature of it, or on the subjective reaction of its targets. Instead,
such wrongfulness depends on the fact that religiously offensive speech normally takes place
against the background of enduring social injustices suffered by certain minorities, for example
religious discrimination (which it at the same time compounds). In that context, we argue,
religiously offensive speech is wrongful when it disables its victims from maintaining an
adequately respectful relationship to themselves, and sets back their freedom through domi-
nation. Recognizing the wrongfulness of some religiously offensive speech, however, need not
entail endorsing its legal regulation all things considered. The paper therefore illustrates
different available forms of intervention, ranging from civil law action to state support for
the victims of such speech and long-term programmes of citizenship education.
Keywords Offensive speech .Religious minorities .Self-respect .Non-domination .
Structural injustice
1 Introduction
Religiously offensive speech, i.e. speech that offends members of religious groups, especially
religious minorities, continues to bedevil contemporary liberal democracies. Perhaps driven by
Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (2019) 22:589605
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10677-019-10000-2
*Matteo Bonotti
Matteo.Bonotti@monash.edu
Jonathan Seglow
J.Seglow@rhul.ac.uk
1
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
2
Royal Holloway, University of London, London, UK
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... This definition helps explain why hate directed towards more privileged members of society is not (generally) hate speech and also helps make the analytical distinction between hate speech and nonhateful offensive speech, such as that directed at religious majorities. While hate speech attacks people's identities, offensive speech is directed at their beliefs (Bonotti & Seglow, 2019). ...
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