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Toleration, Respect for Persons, and the Free Speech Right to Do Moral Wrong

Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to consider the question of whether respect for persons requires toleration of the expression of any extremist political or religious viewpoint within public discourse. The starting point of my discussion is Steven Heyman and Jonathan Quong’s interesting defences of a negative answer to this question. They argue that respect for persons requires that liberal democracies should not tolerate the public expression of extremist speech that can be regarded as recognition-denying or respect-denying speech – that is, speech or other expressive conduct that expresses viewpoints that explicitly reject that all persons should be regarded and treated as free and equal persons or citizens. According to Heyman and Quong, recognition-denying speech falls outside the scope of the right to participate in public discourse (i.e., what it is a right to). In contrast to Heyman and Quong, one can argue that a strong case can be made for viewpoint neutrality on the basis of what can be called a libertarian or Nozickean status-based theory of rights. According to this theory, toleration in a liberal democracy requires respect for the status of persons as thinking agents, and respect for thinking agents and their sovereignty over their own mind requires viewpoint neutrality – that is, a basic right to participate in public discourse as speakers and listeners free from state-imposed viewpoint-based restrictions. All persons should have a basic right to express, hear, and consider any viewpoint within public discourse. This doctrine of viewpoint neutrality requires that citizens in liberal democracies ought to have a legal free speech right to do moral wrong – that is, a legal right to express and defend any viewpoint within public discourse, even if it is morally wrong to express, or expose others to, such views.

Keywords

  • Extremist speech
  • Freedom of expression
  • Jonathan Quong
  • Respect for persons
  • Robert Nozick
  • The right to do wrong
  • Toleration
  • Steven Heyman
  • Viewpoint neutrality

I would especially like to thank Eric Heinze and Kjartan Koch Mikalsen for valuable comments and discussions. Thanks also go to Steven Heyman and Jonathan Quong for useful comments on earlier drafts of my presentation of their positions and arguments.

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Correspondence to Kristian Skagen Ekeli .

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Ekeli, K.S. (2022). Toleration, Respect for Persons, and the Free Speech Right to Do Moral Wrong. In: Sardoč, M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Toleration. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-42121-2_39

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