TOP Q: Where Are The Lines Between Peaceable Death Penalty Advocacy And Criminal Incitement?

David Kato

Last week a heinous, conscience-shocking injustice occurred when the brave, openly gay, Ugandan gay rights campaigner David Kato (pictured above) was murdered shortly after a Ugandan newspaper featured him on the cover with the headline: “100 PIctures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak” and the words “Hang Them” next to it.  The AP photo of the newspaper cover is here.

Of course, as was well-reported last year, American Evangelical Christians played at least some significant role in drumming up the terror of homosexuality in Uganda which led to the outrageous and horrifying proposed legislation pursuing the death penalty for gays and, even, for those who do not report them to the authorities.

Now three men in Britain—Ahjaz Ali, 41, Umer Javed, 37 and Mehboob Hassain, 44—are the first people being brought up on charges under a new British law against inciting hatred against gays.  The alleged incitement?  Distributing a pamphlet calling for the death penalty for homosexuality.

In reply to this, Z.B. on Facebook made an interesting argument that I wanted to pose to you for your views.

Z.B. argued that if calling for a group to receive the death penalty can count as incitement then all pro-death penalty arguments could count as incitement.  Say, for a plausible example, there is a public debate about whether pedophilia or rape should rise to the level of capital crimes, could those who advocate for these positions be blamed if some vigilantes, persuaded by arguments that sex offenders deserve death, decide to take matters into their own hands?

Z.B., in reply to the suggestion that calling for killing equated automatically to hate speech wrote:

Calling for the killing . . . presumably carried out not by individuals consumed by fits of passion, but by a rational government after legal proceedings. These things to me are not really all that different, but then I tend to be tolerant of calls for capital punishment while opposing the practice generally. Unless the group, in its brochure, somehow tacitly encouraged people to *ignore* the actual law of the state rather than merely proposing state laws be changed, I really don’t see how it’s fair to claim they wanted to incite non-government sanctioned violence, and I don’t see how simply calling for capital punishment for a specific group is inherently tacit approval to kill them through non-legal means.

And

But I expect everyone to actually go through with defending far less popular groups, like pedophiles, if this is to be the case, with this relatively loose definition of “incite.”

Death penalty advocates, at least those who propose it as a legal measure in Western societies, are proponents not of personal murder but of a legal penalty that follows due process.  Can they be blamed if people take their arguments that some people deserve death after due process as a justification to inflict death without due process?

It seems to me to matter that in cases of vulnerable minority groups like gays, we are dealing with people who do not even deserve moral, let alone legal, condemnation in the first place and so even proposing whether they deserve death (with or without due process) simply shocks my conscience.  The mere fact the book of Leviticus levies such a pernicious penalty should disqualify it immediately as a divinely inspired, moral guide.

But should it be illegal for people to be morally abhorrent in this way?  And if so, on the grounds that this incites violence, how is general advocacy for the death penalty different?  Are there any actually criminal groups that it would be fair or unfair to allow discussion of the death penalty with respect to?  Do criminal classes lose the right to protection from possible incitement of hatred?

Or is the issue that, as Christopher Hitchens excellently pointed out and condemned recently, in the realm of radical Islamists, even due process is becoming no longer necessary for approval of the killing of “blasphemers” (and even of those who support the rights of “blasphemers” but do not “blaspheme” themselves).  There is now a general lawlessness among Islamists which can make us assume that extremists interpret the case that someone or some group deserves to die as permission to kill them themselves.  Does this variable make calls for the death penalty by Muslims more dangerous than by other groups?  Or is such a position Islamaphobic in some way?

How far does the right to express hate extend?  And is advocating for capital punishment an inciting species of hate speech itself?  Would it become a form of incitement if the accused and if ex-cons were as subject to violence and bullying as gays notoriously, infuriatingly, and intolerably are?  And if advocating death for gays constitutes hate speech, does applying the principle consistently mean identifying the Bible and the Koran as books condemnable for hate speech?  Or are books from other eras exempt from analysis under the ethical codes of today?

In short, today’s open philosophical question is, “Where’s The Line Between Peaceable Death Penalty Advocacy And Criminal Incitement?”

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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