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Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade, intimidate, or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, ideology, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, hair color, etc.), mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability. The term covers written as well as oral communication and some forms of behaviors in a public setting. It is also sometimes called antilocution and is the first point on Allport's scale which measures prejudice in a society. Critics have claimed that the term "Hate Speech" is a modern example of Newspeak, a reference to the book 1984 used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in a rush to appear politically correct.
Differing concepts of what is offensive
A central aspect of the hate speech debate is that concepts of what is acceptable and unacceptable differ, depending on eras in history and one's cultural and religious background. For example, personalized criticism of homosexuality (e.g., expressing the belief that homosexuality is "immoral" or harmful because it conflicts with a person's religious beliefs) is, to some, a valid expression of one's values; to others, however, it is an expression of homophobia and is therefore homophobic hate speech. Prohibition in such cases is seen by some as an interference in their rights to express their beliefs. To others, these expressions generate harmful attitudes that potentially cause discrimination.
Furthermore, words which once "embodied" negative hate speech connotations, such as 'queer' or 'faggot' against homosexuals, 'nigger' against people of African origin and 'bitch' against women, have themselves been "reclaimed" by their respective groups or communities, who attached more positive meanings to the words, so undermining their value to those who wish to use them in a negative sense. Significations differ following the context, as Judith Butler argues. However, others argue that such epithets demean and undermine these very individuals and so should qualify as hate speech. This point of view has been vehemently articulated by influential and well-known members of minority communities. As an example, the use of the word "nigger" by African Americans has been condemned by Bill Cosby, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Richard Pryor and Rev. Ben Chavis, Jr, among others.
Concepts of what qualifies as hate speech broadened in the late twentieth century to include certain views expressed from an ideological standpoint. For instance, some feminists consider jokes about women or lesbians to be hate speech. Recently, the Canadian government added sexual orientation to the list of relevant characteristics eligible for protection from hate speech. Not everyone accepts that there is a difference between classic forms of hate speech, which were incitements to hatred or even to physical harm, and the use of language that merely shows disrespect. Some discussions between politically right wing and left wing can be viewed as hateful, even though the language used by both sides is not normally classified as hate speech.
Attitudes towards controlling hate speech cannot be reliably correlated with the traditional political spectrum. In the United States, there is a general consensus that free speech values take precedence over limiting the harm caused by verbal insult. At the same time, some American conservatives believe verbally expressed "discrimination" against religions such as blasphemy, or sometimes "morally incorrect" or "unpatriotic" speech which opposes deep-seated socio-cultural or religious mores, and national interest, should be condemned or prohibited, while liberals feel the same way about verbal "discrimination" against identity-related personal characteristics, such as homosexuality and language of someone who happens not to speak English (in the US and Canada when it comes to bilingualism).
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