, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 21-40
Date: 03 Feb 2011

Religious Freedom, Free Speech and Equality: Conflict or Cohesion?

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Abstract

There have recently been a number of high profile political incidents, and legal cases, that raise questions about hate speech. At the same time, the tensions, and perceived conflicts, between religion and sexuality have become controversial topics. This paper considers the relationship between religious freedom, free speech and equality through an analysis of recent case law in Great Britain, Canada and the United States. The paper starts with a discussion of how conflicts between these values arise in areas such as hate speech and explores the differences between the European and US approach to this issue. In Council of Europe member states there is an increasing use of the criminal law to regulate hate speech. This paper argues that criminalisation of hate speech poses a distinct risk to the values of free speech and proposes alternative non-legal responses such as a greater use of cultural policy. The paper also explores a range of cases where the religion and sexual orientation conflict has arisen in areas such as the workplace. An analysis of these cases suggests that although there is no perfect resolution of this issue, it is possible to develop a set of principles that encourage a balance between the values of religious freedom, free speech and equality even in difficult situations where there is a conflict between religion and sexuality. The paper concludes with some practical recommendations for managing the tensions or conflicts between religious freedom, free speech and equality in liberal democracies.