Two wrongs don’t make a right
(In)tolerance and hate crime laws in Northern Ireland
in Tolerance and diversity in Ireland, North and South
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The issue of racism and sectarianism is increasingly understood through the prism of 'hate crime'. This way of conceptualising racism and sectarianism is usually accompanied by the claim that society should be intolerant towards intolerance. This chapter argues that this involves a particular interpretation of tolerance and intolerance – one which deviates significantly from the traditional liberal conception of toleration. The chapter outlines public attitudes towards additional penalties for racial aggravation in race hate crimes. It then explores the rationales for these views by the public and points out that the main principle which is articulated by the majority of those who oppose hate crime laws, and a significant proportion who support the law, is one of equality in the eyes of the law. The chapter then judges hate crime laws against John Stuart Mill’s defence of tolerance, argue that they are antithetical to Mill’s defence of tolerance. It concludes by arguing, firstly, that hate crime laws undermine the principle of equality – which has been, and continues to be, fundamental to anti-racism. And secondly, that they undermine tolerance, which is fundamental to personal liberty.

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