Are racial vilification laws supported by free speech arguments?

Bill Swannie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This article examines the relationship between laws regulating racial vilification and arguments for freedom of speech. Commonly, it is argued that racial vilification laws are inconsistent with free speech. This article argues that such laws are consistent with and, indeed, supported by arguments commonly made in favour of free speech. Although this article presents arguments in support of racial vilification laws, it does not dismiss the importance of free speech. Rather, it closely examines arguments commonly made in support of free speech, and it identifies the values and assumptions underlying those arguments. In other words, this article examines the philosophical underpinnings of free speech arguments. Rather than seeing unrestricted speech as a self-evident and unqualified good, it argues that free speech arguments themselves provide justification for regulation of certain types of speech. Clearly identifying the values and assumptions underlying free speech arguments has the potential to improve the quality of debate surrounding the important topic of the regulation of racial vilification. In turn, this may influence the development of legal policy and legal doctrine surrounding legal regulation of this and other forms of speech.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-111
Number of pages41
JournalMonash University Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

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