The traditional, liberal, civil rights position on free speech issues is under powerful assault in the academy. Old allies in the liberal alliance have parted company. Feminist and African-American intellectuals, as well as many white male scholars, now question the old notion that strong free-speech protection is not only defensible but offers the best route to a just society. Rather, the new critics of the old liberal verities argue on a number of fronts that the strong version of free speech disenfranchises blacks, women, gays, and lesbians.
Two kinds of speech are singled out. First, there is hate speech. It is difficult to define this category precisely, but it generally includes offensive speech directed at minorities. In its most vulgar form, it includes the racial and sexist epithet, such as "kike" and "fag." At a more subtle level, or so it is argued, it includes books, cinema, and television images that demean a minority. For example, many African-Americans view the American classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as an example of hate speech. (Some Jews view portions of the New Testament as hate speech directed at Jews, the alleged killers of God; although no one argues for its censorship, many call for clarification.)
Hate speech is criticized as lacking any of the elements that