Rap artist Tyler, the Creator was banned from entering the United Kingdom earlier this semester, which caused the controversial musician to cancel a series of shows that he had planned there as part of his recent tour. Citing hate speech laws, the U.K. Home Office indicated in a letter to the artist that “the home secretary has reached this decision because you have brought yourself within the scope of the list of unacceptable behaviour by making statements that may foster hatred, which might lead to intercommunity violence in the U.K.”
The United Kingdom is not the first country to deny Tyler entry, as New Zealand banned the artist from entering in 2014, deeming him “a potential threat to the public order.” This particular instance is especially problematic. The artist was scheduled as a supporting act for Eminem, who — despite a history of violent crime and lyrics that are arguably more violent and misogynistic than Tyler’s — received no such trouble entering the country. In this example, one of the most troubling aspects of hate speech laws becomes apparent — they affect only those whom society deems to be threatening. Given who is affected in the example of New Zealand, there seems to be a racial bias implicit in the authorities decision to ban Tyler while granting easy access to Eminem.
Furthermore, there is also the issue of freedom of speech. Why should the authorities decide what music people should listen to? Certainly, there’s no telling how puritanical their standards might be and how they might perceive alleged threats to society. By no means should the government have the right to dictate the tastes of the people. The United States has the First Amendment to protect us from such censorship. Many other countries would challenge this notion, countering that hate speech laws protect women and minority groups from discrimination in addition to preventing the empowerment of hate groups. While this claim may seem logical on the surface, it does not hold up when placed under tighter scrutiny.
Many European countries have outlawed Holocaust denial under hate speech laws. However, these laws seem not to have inhibited anti-Semitism. Using a series of objective metrics to identify anti-Semitic attitudes, the Anti-Defamation League conducted a study in order to ascertain the level of anti-Semitism in Europe in 2012. The researchers found that in the countries of France, Germany and Poland — all of which have hate speech laws prohibiting Holocaust denial — anti-Semitism had either increased or remained stagnant between the years of 2009 and 2012 France, in particular, saw a 24 percentage point increase in anti-Semitism despite the best efforts of government officials. It is clear that merely silencing those who hold egregious views does nothing to solve the problem.
While hate speech is often painful to hear and can be harmful, it is crucial that the government not legislate against it. This issue is ever more relevant as many campus organizations and special interest groups have lobbied in favor of and advocated for the implementation of hate speech laws. But it is important to keep in mind that such laws are ineffective and can actually negatively impact some of those they intend to protect.
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