Imagine insulting a chicken and getting charged with hate speech. According to two academics from England’s Sheffield University, animals can be victims of hate speech and should be protected from it.
This is not a joke, although few people are taking it seriously.
Philosopher Josh Milburn and political theorist Alasdair Cochrane published their unique theory in a serious publication, the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. They claim there is a discrepancy between the legal response to hate speech targeting humans and hate speech targeting animals.
The article begins with a comparison between white supremacists and humans who argue they’re morally superior to other species. Only the white supremacists would face prosecution for promoting their beliefs, which the authors claim is an unjustifiable inconsistency in our legal system.
Milburn and Cochrane say one cannot distinguish typical forms of hate speech—ableism, sexism, homophobia, racism—from anti-animal or speciesist hate speech. They argue that if we humans support the censure of hate speech towards our own species, we must apply this to all other species as well.
Similar views have been voiced by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This group has proposed some interesting ways to remove “speciesism” from our daily vocabulary. “Kill two birds with one stone” should be replaced with “feed two birds with one scone” and “bring home the bacon” should instead be “bring home the bagels.”
Don’t laugh, this is serious.
Milburn and Cochrane’s characterization of hate speech includes ignoring or tolerating harm to animals and claiming that the interests of animals don’t matter because they’re animals. Critics would bring up the fact that animals don’t understand any ‘hate speech’ inflicted upon them.
The authors’ response: “We are pushing towards making an identifi cation of wrongful action not on the subjective feelings they produce, but on the wrongful content of the speech itself.” Instituting bans on speciesist hate speech may create better human/animal relations within our future society, claim Milburn and Cochrane.
Integrating animals in hate speech law is offering animals the respect that they are owed, they say. The article can be found online at academic.oup.com/ojls/ advance-article/doi/10.1093/ojls/ gqab013/6289858