The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006: A Millian response

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 represents a significant development in UK law. It extends the offence of incitement to racial hatred set out in the Public Order Act 1986 to make it also an offence to stir up hatred against persons on religious grounds. As the most celebrated liberal thinker of the nineteenth century, J.S. Mill might be expected to offer some lessons about the possible dangers of this sort of legislation. A Millian response to the 2006 Act is developed here by first applying Mill’s famous defence of free speech to the Lords amendments to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill 2005 and then by looking at potential cases in which even freedom of expression loses its immunity when this is necessary to prevent harm to others. Three versions of the harm‐prevention justification for liberty‐limiting restrictions are assessed and it is argued that the most promising version is the claim that it may be permissible to punish incitement to racial and religious hatred not so much because it is itself a kind of harm but by virtue of the acts of discrimination, violence and injustice that are more likely to occur within a climate of hatred. Ultimately, however, this rationale must be weighed against what is, for Mill, the special value of free speech and may in the end justify intervention in only the most acute cases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
Number of pages24
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Cite this