The Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of cracking down on hate speech should lead to increased efforts to eradicate this scourge.
The Supreme Court, in its first ruling on hate speech ordinances being enacted by local governments, ruled Feb. 15 that the one enacted by Osaka city was constitutional. The issue at stake was whether the hate speech ordinance infringed on the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.
The top court decision has set guidelines for local governments across the nation considering enacting a similar ordinance.
Local administrations should accurately understand the top court’s argument and start in-depth debates on what can and should be done for local communities regarding this issue.
Osaka city in 2016 became the first Japanese local government to enact an ordinance to fight hate speech. It targeted discriminatory behavior against people from other countries and requires the municipal government to take necessary measures to prevent the spread of hate speech.
The ordinance has also introduced a system to allow the local administration to publish the names of people and organizations found to have violated it after seeking the opinion of an advisory panel of experts to be set up with the consent of the municipal assembly.
There are ways to hold offenders accountable for discriminatory expressions against individuals through both criminal and civil actions. But it is difficult to take legal actions against hate speech targeting an unspecific number of unidentified people, such as a race and people with certain cultural backgrounds.
Because of this reason, there has been no effective way to stop demonstrations and gatherings for vilifying, humiliating, or inciting hatred against people with foreign backgrounds such as ethnic Korean residents in Japan. The situation clearly demands administrative responses.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court pointed out that hate speech is openly expressed in public for such unjustifiable purposes as excluding specific groups of people from society on account of a group characteristic such as race and ethnicity.
It denounced such speech for “inducing and promoting discrimination and hatred and inciting criminal acts to harm people’s life and bodies.” It concluded that there is “a strong need to deter” hate speech.
Pointing out that the restriction on hate speech under the ordinance in question was “only limited to extremely and maliciously discriminatory words and deeds,” the court said the ordinance was a rational measure to tackle the challenge and does not represent any excessive response to the problem.
It goes without saying that maximum cautiousness is required in restricting freedom of expression, which is a core democratic value.
But discriminatory expressions that deeply hurt the feelings of people and strike fear into their hearts undoubtedly infringe on their human rights. Hate speech, if allowed to go unchecked, tends to beget more discrimination.
The Diet passed an anti-hate speech law in 2016, shortly after Osaka enacted the ordinance. Since it has no provisions for specific restrictions or punishment for violations, however, local administrations have been working to take their own steps to supplement the law.
In 2018, the Tokyo metropolitan government adopted a hate speech ordinance that restricts the use of public facilities by offenders. An ordinance established in 2019 in the city of Kawasaki provides for criminal penalties against offenses. Other local governments including Aichi Prefecture are also working on their own decrees.
Creating a system to crack down on hate speech while respecting freedom of expression is a formidable challenge.
This requires accurately understanding the reality of the social harms and evils caused by hate speech and carefully weighing such factors as the types of speech that should be restricted, punishment against violations and procedures for invoking the system.
The ultimate goal of all these efforts should be to ensure a wide sharing of intolerance to discrimination among community members and to build a society where the rights of minorities are protected.
When it enacted the anti-hate speech law, the Diet, in a supplementary resolution, called for efforts to eliminate hate speech on the internet as well as all forms of discrimination that are not limited to expression.
Responding to the call is an important mission that national and local governments should carry out.