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Laws in various countries
that restrict hate speech

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Background of hate speech or hate propaganda laws:

These laws criminalize hatred in spoken or written form that attack individuals who fall into one or more defined classes. As in the case of hate-crime laws, these protected classes can include religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, etc.

In many countries, religious writings and speech are given special exemptions from these laws.

Countries differ greatly in their approach to hate speech:


United States: Due to the almost absolute freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, its citizens are relatively free to engage in hate speech without the risk of being charged with a crime.

A person is not permitted to falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. They cannot threaten to assassinate the President. But they can normally express hatred against persons of any race, religion, sexual orientation, sex, political party, etc. with impunity. They can even advocate genocide against another religious group, as two fundamentalist Christian pastors did in Texas.


The United Kingdom, some of her ex-colonies like Canada and Australia, and many counties in Europe: These countries place some restrictions on freedom of speech. For example, Canada's Criminal Code has two sections covering what it calls "hate propaganda." The first is Section 318 that criminalizes the promotion and advocacy of genocide. The second is Section 319 that covers general hate speech. The latter has two clauses exempting persons who deliver hate sermons, give hate speeches, write hate material, etc. from a religious perspective. The list of protected groups was increased in 2004 from four (color, race, religion and ethnic origin) to five by adding sexual orientation. This gave equal protections to heterosexuals, bisexuals and gays/lesbians.

Five years later, there has been only one conviction of which we are aware concerning hate propaganda in which the defendant claimed that his hate speech was not a crime because it was religiously-motivated. He was running for a seat in the House of Commons. While attending an all-candidates night, he had advocated the mass murder/genocide of homosexuals. His conviction was possible only because the judge rejected the defendant's claim that his hate speech was religiously motivated. He received an 18 month suspended sentence.


Sweden: This country takes a much tougher stand against hate speech than the U.S. and Canada -- at least in theory. In 2002 a constitutional amendment was passed criminalizing hate speech directed at many identified groups, including sexual orientation. Unlike the Canadian law, this amendment did not contain a provision exempting religious hate speech.

A Pentecostal pastor delivered an anti-gay and lesbian sermon in which he linked homosexuality with bestiality, incest, and the sexual abuse of children. He predicted that unless the people became more intolerant of sexual minorities, God might cause a massive natural disaster that would kill hundreds of thousands of Swedes. He was charged under the new law, and was convicted. His conviction was subsequently overturned on appeal to the country's Supreme Court.

Topics covered in this section are:

Hate speech legislation in:

bullet Australia

bullet Brazil

bullet Canada
bullet Sweden
bullet The United Kingdom

Associated section in this web site:

bullet Hate-crime laws to protect persons of all sexual orientations from violence.

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Home > Religious laws > here

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Copyright 1996 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated 2008-JUL-26

Author: Bruce A Robinson

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