Minorities’ views on freedom of expression: Unlimited or protective?

With Mónica Ferrín and Carol Galais

While freedom of expression is a key principle of democracy, normative theories do not provide a univocal answer as to how this should be implemented, especially when it comes to its potential limits. Two major normative views stand on this respect. The first one advocates unrestricted freedom of speech to preserve democratic quality, while the contrasting view argues in favor of establishing some limits to it as a way to protect some groups or individuals. What makes an individual more prone to embrace an unrestricted (liberal) or a limited (protective) view remains an unsolved matter of a lively research field. Most remarkably, existing research focuses on the privileged citizens, the ones who have to decide whether or not to limit their speech in order to avoid offending minorities; while minorities’ views on the trade-off between protection and freedom of speech remain largely unknown, even if they are frequently the target of offensive speech. In this article we test the impact of hate speech on the attitudes towards freedom of speech of the European Muslim minorities by analyzing the impact of an unexpected event occurred during fieldwork of Round 6 of the European Social Survey – the release of “Innocence of Muslims”, a short anti-Islamic film that denigrates Islamic prophet Muhammad. This research design allows us to test whether Muslims did change their attitudes towards freedom of speech after being subject to abusive and threatening speech through that movie.

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