This post follows on from here.
Applying this to the question of freedom of expression is a complicated task. Just as with sex, the ability to express ourselves is a fundamental part of what it is to be human. I noted in the first section on rights that we should have the right to freedom of expression, based on the idea that expressing ourselves is a fundamental part of what it is to be an autonomous moral agent. Just as the state should ‘stay out of our sex lives’, the state should also, on the basis of this conception of the right to expressive autonomy, ‘stay out of our expressive lives’ as well. This is in line with my position that we should have the right to freedom of expression. If the state must not interfere with our expressive autonomy, then we should not have content-based laws that stifle hate speech, or any other instances of ‘worthless’ expression. There is a further (consequentialist) reason which might strengthen this idea if the idea of a right to expressive autonomy is not convincing enough. In cases of homicide or litter-dropping, there is a direct and narrow effect of the action, i.e. a person is killed or a street is made dirtier. With harmful expression, the harm requires a listener, and is exacerbated the more listeners there are. Each time the state intervenes it is usually accompanied by media coverage, and this disseminates the hate speech to a much wider audience. So, if hate speech is harmful as a result of it being heard, and the stifling of that expression means that more people hear it, we cause more potential harm and further the incitement by restricting the expression. By trying to silence it, we make it seem more prominent and facilitate its dissemination by means of the resulting media coverage.
I think then that while we want to have a society in which there is no hate speech, and thus the dignity of minorities is free from harm caused by hate speech, I do not think that the state is justified in restricting hate speech.