Censor or censure: Maintaining civility

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


In discussion of free speech and incitement to religious hatred there is a tendency to draw an analogy with blasphemy. This becomes the point of departure or more than the point of departure. But I want to suggest that a better analogy, as a starting-point, is incitement to racial hatred or (in a slightly different but related challenge) the legal and other issues around Holocaust-denial. Clearly there is sometimes a public order concern about the forms of dangerous speech that incite hatred. We recognise occasions on which the law has to intervene to stop people saying certain things or things in a certain way or saying those things in a certain time and place. For a classic illustration used by political theorists and others, take a situation in which there is a threat of immediate violence. Such a case is sketched by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. He is championing freedom of speech but he says: even opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances in which they are expressed are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act. An opinion that corn-dealers are starvers of the poor, or that private property is robbery, ought to be unmolested when simply circulated through the press, but may justly incur punishment when delivered orally to an excited mob assembled before the house of a corn-dealer, or when handed about among the same mob in the form of a placard.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIslam and English Law: Rights, Responsibilities and the Place of Shari'a
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)9781139128834, 9781107021648
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013

Structured keywords

  • SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship


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