BLOGShould We Follow Europe’s Example and Outlaw Hate Speech? A European Weighs In

By Sarah Kramer Posted on: | July 12, 2019

Can speech qualify as violence?

That seems to be the growing consensus, especially among young Americans. Even more concerning is the fact that an increasing number consider it appropriate to counter “offensive” speech with physical violence. A 2017 survey found that 30 percent of college students think it is okay to use physical violence to stop someone from “using hate speech or engaging in racially charged comments.”

That’s right – 30 percent!

Just look at what recently happened to journalist Andy Ngo. As he was peacefully reporting on an Antifa protest, he was attacked, resulting in a brain bleed. But as Daniella Greenbaum Davis points out at The Federalist, “once the Antifa activists determined that Ngo’s speech is violent, it is both logical and consistent that they would use violence to thwart him.”

Part of the problem is that there is no real standard for what qualifies as “violent” or “hateful” speech. And its definition seems to be ever changing and expanding.

And with more and more Americans calling for this type of speech to be censored, many are increasingly looking to Europe, where there are hundreds of laws that outlaw “hate speech.”

But is Europe’s approach to speech really the answer?

ADF International Executive Director Paul Coleman participated in a Heritage Foundation panel to answer this question.




As Coleman points out, “So much speech is offensive to someone.”

And with no real standard to determine what constitutes hate speech, it is left up to the government. And that should concern us all. If the government can decide what qualifies as hate speech, what’s to say it won’t label your beliefs as “hateful” – pushing them out of the public square.

The result in Europe has been at least threefold.


1. Censorship leads to more censorship.

Coleman explains that what began in Europe as restrictions on the most extreme forms of speech has expanded, and the scope of these laws has continued to increase. At the same time, the threshold for what constitutes hate speech has only decreased. For example, there have been moves in several countries to outlaw silent prayer outside of abortion facilities. And more and more speech continues to be lumped in under “hate speech.”


2. Censorship leads to self-censorship.

Hate speech laws have resulted in a “you can’t say that” culture in Europe. Rather than face criminal penalties or have the police come knocking at their doors, people avoid voicing viewpoints that might be labeled as “hateful.” They self-censor. As Coleman points out, the laws ultimately change attitudes and behaviors. By criminalizing certain viewpoints, those ideas are stamped out. It becomes not only a “you can’t say that” culture, but also a “you can’t think that” culture.


3. Censorship leads to more division and more polarization.

Proponents of hate speech laws like to claim that these laws promote peace and harmony. But Coleman states that the opposite has actually been true: “Some of the greatest political and societal tensions that we see in Europe are in the countries that have the strictest speech laws,” he said. Instead of promoting peace, these laws are being used as a weapon to shut down debate.


The law might not have changed in the U.S., but the mentality is alive and well. You need look no further than the censorship that has taken place on college campuses across the country.

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom is dedicated to defending the right of all people to speak freely without fear of being punished by the government.

Europe’s example speaks louder than words: The answer is not censorship. The answer is more speech.

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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