U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Hate Speech and Constitutional Protection: Priming Values of Equality and Freedom

NCJ Number
Journal of Social Issues Volume: 58 Issue: 2 Dated: Summer 2002 Pages: 247-263
Gloria Cowan; Miriam Resendez; Elizabeth Marshall; Ryan Quist
Date Published
17 pages
This study examined the effects on related attitudes and values of raising an individual's consciousness of either the harm of hate speech or the importance of free speech.
Because both the value of free speech and the harm of hate speech have a place in the ethical system of most Americans, this study hypothesized that priming on one or the other principle would increase the salience, and hence the influence, of that primed value on attitudes toward the harm of hate speech and freedom of speech as aspects of the values of equality and freedom. Study participants were 169 college students (67 Caucasians, 50 Hispanics, 21 African-Americans, 16 Asian-Americans, and 15 "others"). Forty-six participants were male and 122 were female. The equal-protection prime consisted of a statement followed by specific questions that addressed the harm of hate speech and the benefits of limiting it. The freedom-of-speech prime consisted of a statement followed by specific questions that focused on the importance of freedom of speech and the costs of censorship. Participants in both prime conditions were first presented with a definition of hate speech as follows: "Hate speech has been defined as a generic term that has come to embrace the use of speech attacks based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexual orientation or preference." The effects of the priming conditions were examined by having participants make assessments of scenarios with hate speech that targeted homosexuals, Blacks, and women. Participants were then asked to complete a value survey adapted from Rokeach's original Value Survey (1968). The study found that an individual's attitude toward issues of free speech and harm of hate speech was determined in part by that value most impressed upon their conscious awareness. Relative to the control group, the freedom-of-speech prime was more effective than the equal-protection prime in affecting scores on the Freedom of Speech Scale, the juxtaposition of freedom of speech and harm of speech, and responses to the scenarios. If people are reminded of the value of free speech, they may tend to minimize the harm of hate speech, hold the perpetrator less accountable, and emphasize the costs of censorship. People primed to value the harm of hate speech, on the other hand, may be more inclined to support restrictions on speech that inflicts psychological harm and fosters a climate for hate crimes. Study limitations and alternative explanations of the findings are discussed. 3 tables and 30 references


No download available