Racial and Religious Hate Speech in Singapore: Reclaiming the Victim's Perspective
Singapore Law Review, 2009
50 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2009
Date Written: June 13, 2009
In this essay, I argue that the rationales offered by the Singapore Government for restricting racial and religious hate speech are not only constitutionally unsound, but also not without serious moral and social costs. I start off identifying two main rationales offered for the existing restrictions, namely (1) the maintenance of public order, and (2) the promotion of an ethic of intercultural tolerance. These twin rationales are buttressed by a literalist (and flawed) judicial interpretation of the right of free speech under Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution. Drawing on hate speech decisions from the U.S., Canada and Europe, I advance a more faithful reading of Article 14 which affords greater constitutional protection for hate speech as 'political speech'. I next trace how the Singapore Government's regulation of hate speech is rooted in its avowedly Asian-style 'communitarianism'. The 'public order' and 'tolerance' rationales, however, fail to recognize that race and religion are constitutive aspects of our individual flourishing and self-respect, which hate speech attacks. The present legislative regime is therefore guilty of self-contradiction. Lastly, I sketch a different, victim-centred justification for Singapore's hate speech laws which is responsive to the profound injury inflicted upon individuals targeted by racial and religious vilification. This victim-centred perspective, it is suggested, finds a comfortable textual home in Article 152(1) of the Singapore Constitution, which requires the Government to care for the interests of racial and religious minorities in Singapore.
Keywords: Singapore, constitutional law, Article 14, freedom of speech, hate speech, political speech, multiculturalism, racial harmony, religious harmony, communitarianism, asian values
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