Taking Profound Offence Seriously: Freedom of Speech v. Human Dignity

Journal of Hate Studies, Vol. 16(1) (2020): 1–11.

11 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2021

Date Written: December 30, 2020


This study discusses the issue of offence to sensibilities as possible grounds for limiting freedom of expression. This issue is constantly brought to the public agenda, as for example, in the limitation imposed in Israel on the playing of Richard Wagner’s music by Israeli orchestras. The proposed thesis is as follows: The Offence to Sensibilities Argument will take precedence over free expression only in cases where profound and direct damage is inflicted upon the sensibilities of individuals or a target group, undermining their dignity, especially when the speaker’s intentions are to offend the target individual/group under circumstances in which the individual or target group cannot avoid. In every case, it is incumbent upon those who wish to limit expression to examine the content of the expression and its manner, the duration and intensity of the expression, the frequency of the offence, the speaker’s intentions, the circumstances and the likely consequences of the offensive speech. Psychologists should be consulted concerning the severity of each offence.

Keywords: freedom of expression, Feinberg, harm, offence, Skokie, Wagner

JEL Classification: Z00

Suggested Citation

Cohen-Almagor, Raphael, Taking Profound Offence Seriously: Freedom of Speech v. Human Dignity (December 30, 2020). Journal of Hate Studies, Vol. 16(1) (2020): 1–11., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3757329

Raphael Cohen-Almagor (Contact Author)

University of Hull ( email )

Cottingham Road
Hull, Great Britain HU6 7RX
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.hull.ac.uk/faculties/staff-profiles/raphael-cohen-almagor.aspx

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