Why I Can’t Support Hate Speech Laws

Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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39 Responses

  1. Mike Schilling says:

    That kind of stupidity shouldn’t lead to losing tenure or bring fired, but it’s certainly sensible grounds for not rehiring the moron.Report

  2. Rufus says:

    It doesn’t strike me as hate speech. He’s making a coherent argument from natural law theory. I don’t agree with it, but I find “natural moral law” theory lacking anyway. Offhand I can think of all sorts of moral acts that are in direct contradiction to nature, which I’m fine with. Actually, human nature, if anything, is pretty damned malleable. I would hope an intelligent undergraduate could step up to the plate and articulate a good argument about why he’s wrong, instead of complaining to admins. And maybe some did. But this response, on the part of the university, suggests they don’t have much faith in the intelligence of their students.Report

  3. North says:

    Jason, agree completely. I’ve never fancied hate speech laws. They smack too much of thin skinned pearl clutching to me. We’re not going to win future generations to our side with that kind of behavior.Report

  4. Bob says:

    I could be wrong but I don’t see any force of *law* here. Wasn’t it confined to a private school making a choice on employment?

    Regardless of the necessity or wisdom of such laws this episode does not fit. Seems to me.Report

  5. Bob says:

    “Imagine that a proposed law would make everyone wear high-heeled shoes.

    “Would it be “boneheaded” of me to look at a shoe store for evidence of what the future holds?”


    Let me be clear on one thing, in case you are confused. The “boneheaded act” was the decision to terminate employment.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Bob says:

      @Bob, and if the “boneheaded act” was mandated by law?

      Is it fair to not want boneheadedness codified into law?Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Bob says:


      The boneheaded act was spewing lots of ignorant crap about how homosexuality is unnatural and claiming it’s common sense. If he does the same thing about how blacks are intellectually inferior or Jews aren’t loyal citizens, he’s still replaced, but with far less hand-wringing.Report

      • Bob in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        @Mike Schilling, I first became aware of Prof. Howell reading the PZ Myers blog a few days ago. Prof. Myers had a lot to say regarding the situation. Below is a taste. I think he is pretty accurate, “stupid speech.”


        “I don’t think it is hate speech at all.

        “It’s stupid speech.

        “A letter that condemned students, that threatened students if they didn’t agree with his views, that discriminated against a segment of society, or that denied people full participation in the culture for their views or background or private practices…that would be hate speech. This letter, though, is a pedantic and polite explanation of the views of the professor and of the Catholic church and of his interpretation of utilitarianism, and in fact is careful to say that he isn’t condemning any individuals. We can’t endorse using this kind of discussion as an excuse to expel people from academia — we want professors and students to be able to communicate freely with one another, without fear of retaliation. I see no sign that the professor was discussing the matter in a way that disrespects any of his students.”


  6. Mike Schilling says:

    @Mike Schilling,

    Agreed, but I don’t see why it’s wrong to replace someone because he’s stupid.Report

    • Bob in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      @Mike Schilling, While I find it stupid speech I must also say that that judgment is very subjective, I find a lot of Catholic, religious, teachings stupid. On the other hand, millions find them persuasive.

      From what I understand Howell was hired to teach a class on Catholicism at UI. Howell has ties to a Catholic organization, he is a believing Catholic, apparently a traditional Catholic. His email outlines what I would call the standard Catholic position on homosexuality. I find that position stupid but he was hired by UI to present the Catholic point of view. What did the administration think he would present? Something counter to Catholic doctrine?

      If Howell can be let go on account of stupidity perhaps the people responsible for creating the class, or allowing the class to continue, should also be let go because of their stupidity.

      PZ reaches a different conclusion. Myers:

      “I think it entirely reasonable to boot Kenneth Howell out of UI because he’s not very bright and doesn’t meet the intellectual standards I expect of UI professors. Of course, part of the reason for his weird shortcomings is the fact that he’s a professor of religion who is spitting up Catholic dogma, and one big problem is that a respected major university is offering courses in Catholicism taught by its adherents as serious philosophy, rather than teaching it as cultural anthropology by someone who can maintain a little distance from its weird precepts. Kick Howell out, but send the Catholic theologians packing right after him.”Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Bob says:


        The problem isn’t where he’s describing Catholic doctrine. It’s where he’s saying “And this is obviously true, even leaving religion aside, because insert stupid and false cliches here“.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

          @Mike Schilling,

          And I wouldn’t use PZ as a benchmark here. His intolerance toward religion is well-known.Report

          • Bob in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            @Mike Schilling, his intolerance is well founded.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Bob says:


              Like when he defaced the statue of Martin Luther King, because, after all, it’s just a big piece of stone, and then ridiculed black people for getting upset about it? (Or something like that.)Report

            • Jason Kuznicki in reply to Bob says:


              PZ Myers went to a Catholic church, took a communion wafer, did not eat it, and instead threw it in the garbage after driving a nail through it. He also threw away as I recall a copy of the Koran and a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. (And yes, I knew all about this before I asked him to write.)

              Besides MLK not being a religious figure, there are other reasons why the parallel doesn’t remotely hold. For one thing, the Catholic Church gives away consecrated communion wafers, which makes them quite unlike statues. If they don’t want people doing such things to their bread, they should not give that bread away to all who ask for it.Report

            • Mike Schilling in reply to Bob says:


              Shorter PZ: “I go well out of my way to offend people and they become offended. Clearly there’s something wrong with them.”Report

            • Matty in reply to Bob says:

              In the interests of accuracy Dr Myers stunt with a communion wafer started here. The full details are scattered over several posts on his blog but as I remember the story.
              1. A student (Webster Cook) was attending a Catholic service, took the communion wafer and instead of eating it tried to take it back to his seat apparently to show a non-Catholic friend. Other churchgoers tried to physically stop him doing so.
              2. In response Mr Cook ran out of the Church taking the wafer with him.
              3. A number of Catholic commentators made public statements about this comparing his actions to kidnapping and violent hate crimes and calling for him to be expelled from his university.
              4. PZ Myers defended Cook arguing that.
              -His actions were only wrong according to Catholic doctrine, which a secular university has no business enforcing, and.
              – Any such action would amount to punishing an expression of opinion, which brings us nicely back to ‘hate speech’.

              The cracker incident was not a spontaneous attempt to piss people off but an OTT way to get attention to an argument not dissimilar to Jason’s and a show of solidarity with a young man facing the wrath of a large part of his community. By all means call the way it was hyped stupid, I probably would, but lets not pretend it was just gratuitous offence.Report

  7. Bob says:

    “Like when he defaced the statue of Martin Luther King, because, after all, it’s just a big piece of stone, and then ridiculed black people for getting upset about it? (Or something like that.)”

    Really? I’m not taking your word on that. I’d like some proof. If he did, shame on him.

    In any case, MLK is not a religious figure AND religious folk deface other religious folks stuff. So intolerant. Gee, I think I remember reading something about religious wars. (Or something like that.)Report

    • Bob in reply to Bob says:

      @Bob, I should be clear on MLK not being a religious figure. I mean in the sense of being venerated. From Wiki, “Veneration (Latin veneratio, Greek ???????, douleia), or veneration of saints, is a special act of honoring a saint: a dead person who has been identified as singular in the traditions of the religion. It is practiced by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic Churches, Anglican Communion, and Lutheran Church. Veneration is often shown outwardly by respectfully bowing or making the sign of the cross before a saint’s icon, relics, or statue. These items may also be kissed.”Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to Bob says:


      Sorry, I should realize that after all these years that sarcasm doesn’t work online. I was parodying PZ’s defacing of a communion host.Report