Jeremy Waldron elaborates for skeptical New York Times readers on what he means by ‘dignity’, and how hate speech attacks it:
[W]hat I have in mind when I talk about dignity is this — a person’s basic social status, his or her being treated as an ordinary member of society in good standing, his or her being included in the ordinary business of society. A person’s dignity is damaged, then, when he or she is publicly defamed or dehumanized, or when he or she is perceived as belonging to a group all of whose members are defamed or dehumanized. In parts of Miami some restaurant signs used to say, “Jews and dogs not welcome here.” A legal prohibition on such signs would be aimed at securing the inclusiveness of the social environment against such attempts to undermine it.
The libertarians plough on in volume regardless:
Gee… can anyone imagine how wonderful a society would look like if the state had the authority to intervine whenever anyone felt offended or unhappy?
John Paul Stevens explained why such criticisms are misplaced the other week:
Waldron distinguishes between protecting people from offense and protecting their dignity. The example of contemptuous conduct in open court illustrates his distinction. We do not punish the contempt—at least we do not acknowledge doing so—because the judge may be angered by an insulting remark or gesture, but rather to maintain decorum in the courtroom. Sustaining a judge’s authority assists her in performing her job. So it is with the dignity of the ordinary citizen. The fact that members of an ethnic minority may be justifiably outraged by hate speech is not a sufficient justification for censorship. But as citizens in a civil society, they are entitled to be treated with respect in the performance of their daily activities. Such dignity, Waldron argues, is “precisely what hate speech laws are designed to protect.”