For Free Speech, “Religious Offense,” and “Undermining Self-Respect”: A Reply to Bonotti and Seglow


Recent arguments trying to justify further free speech restrictions by appealing to harms that are allegedly serious enough to warrant such restrictions regularly fail to provide sufficient empirical evidence and normative argument. This is also true for the attempt made by Bonotti and Seglow. They offer no valid argument for their claim that it is wrong to direct “religiously offensive speech” at “unjustly disadvantaged” minorities (thereby allegedly undermining their “self-respect”), nor for their further claim that this is not the case when such speech is directed at “established majorities.” Moreover, their account has either counter-intuitive moral implications or succumbs to logical or pragmatic incoherence. Thus, they have not adduced convincing reasons to further restrict speech. In fact, some of the reasons for this failure provide, in turn, positive reasons in support of free speech. Two important (not new, but newly confirmed) reasons are that restricting free speech undermines both equal civic standing as well as fact-guided (as opposed to blindly ideological) policies. Free speech, in contrast, is indispensable for both.



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Uwe Steinhoff
University of Hong Kong

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