Sheffield university doctors propose new laws to protect animals – from hate speech

Two Sheffield university doctors have explored the possibilities of proposing new laws aimed at protecting animals - from hate speech.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 11:35 am

Dr Josh Milburn and Dr Alasdair Cochrane, both from the University of Sheffield suggest anti-animal language should be banned as this may help inculcate “more benign human–animal relations within society.”

The proposals, published in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, state that animals too can experience the impact of hate crimes in a way that undermines their 'social confidence'.

This means, "speciesist" hate speech is as bad as racist hate speech.

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A macaw (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

It could also be hate speech to say the lives of a non-native species matter less than a native one.

The abstract of the journal read: "Laws against hate speech protect members of certain human groups.

"However, they do not offer protection to nonhuman animals. Using racist hate speech as our primary example, we explore the discrepancy between the legal response to hate speech targeting human groups and what might be called anti-animal or speciesist hate speech.

"We explore two sets of possible defences of this legal discrepancy drawn from the philosophical literature on hate speech - non-consequentialist and harm-based - and find both wanting.

University of Sheffield

"We thus conclude that, absent a compelling alternative argument, there is no in-principle reason to support the censure of racist hate speech but not the censure of speciesist hate speech."

The journal said some animals "do seem to have their social confidence eroded because of their awareness of the risk of violence.

"'Game' animals who learn to avoid humans or companion animals who have suffered abuse could be described as individuals whose social confidence has been eroded because of fear of attack.

"If correct, this would mean that (at least some) animals are part of a vulnerable group, warranting relevant protective laws as such."

Although the academicians acknowledged in their conclusion that even if the harmfulness of hate speech (racist or speciesist) provides a prima facie reason to support the criminalisation of said speech, criminalisation is not justified.

“Perhaps, for example, the harms of criminalisation would be significant enough to counterbalance the harms criminalisation seeks to avert. Or perhaps the harms of hate speech could be counterbalanced without the need for the drastic step of criminalisation, such as through counter-speech.”

To read the full journal, please go here.