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Knowledge Base

Should Speech That Offends Be Prohibited?

What is persuasive speech?

Persuasive speech is when a speaker attempts to convince his or her audience through logic or emotional appeal. It receives broad protection under free speech.

Why shouldn’t we prohibit offensive speech?

If being offended were enough to prohibit someone’s speech, it would lead to two bad incentives. The first is that it would reward the people who claimed to be the most offended, therefore giving them additional rights over those who take more moderate positions. Even small disagreements would have the incentive to be magnified, increasing polarization of the debate.

Second, if a veto were given to those who disagree, then every time someone spoke, it would mean the person with the least sympathy with what they said would have the most control over whether they could say it. And that’s not a workable world. More speech is better for society than preventing everyone from speaking.

What is the heckler’s veto?

The heckler’s veto is a term for when one person or group is able to silence another person’s speech by being offended, outraged, or causing a disturbance of some kind. If allowed, it provides an incentive to shut down speech through extralegal means.

In practice, it typically occurs when a crowd prevents a speaker from speaking, infringing on both the rights of the speaker and those in the audience who want to listen to the speaker, whether they agree with the content of the speech or not.

Is offensive speech the same as persuasive speech?

At its core offensive speech is a form of persuasive speech, and should receive the same kind of protection under free speech. What persuades one person might necessarily offend another.

If we regulate offensive speech, then ultimately someone has to decide what is or isn’t offensive. Eventually, that person will be someone who vehemently disagrees with your opinions. A commitment to free speech requires us to protect the rights of those we disagree with.