South China Morning Post
17 June 2015
The video of two women hurling homophobic insults at legislator Raymond Chan Chi-yuen sparked widespread condemnation but there have also been voices defending the speakers' right to express their views. This incident raises interesting questions about the nature and function of the right to freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. All common law jurisdictions recognise that there are limits to what one can say in public, even though they differ on what those limits are. Defamatory speech, for example, can be legally proscribed: one cannot go around making false statements against someone which damages his or her reputation.
A key reason why the law imposes limitations is the concept of dignity. The roots of dignity can be traced back to at least as far as the 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant. At its simplest, "dignity" refers to the intrinsic worth that all individuals possess by virtue of their common status as human beings. Since all individuals have the same intrinsic worth, we should show respect for the equal dignity of other people.
For Kant, a person's dignity is "unconditional", meaning it does not vary depending on factors such as race, class, gender or sexual orientation. This conception of equal dignity forms the basis of anti-discrimination law, and indeed much of human rights law... Click here to read the full article.