Should there be limitations on rights in a democracy?

At the end of Unit 2, we noted that we would return to the issue of whether there are or should be any limitations on human rights. There is a kind of ‘rule of thumb’ that some people use to consider whether particular constraints or limitations on the exercise of rights can be considered just and reasonable in a democratic system. This rule declares that: ‘Practices that attack the fundamental values of democracy cannot be considered valid.’

For example, most democracies have laws to prevent inciting hatred against certain groups. Such laws may result in restrictions of free speech or censorship, but they are considered by many (not all) as essential to protecting pluralism. Those who do not support this view sometimes argue that ‘the solution to bad speech is more speech’, meaning that the general population will not be swayed by a few people preaching hatred as long as there are enough moderate views also being expressed.

So it has been argued that such hatred inciting speeches should be ignored and opposite views encouraged. In the UK, following the events of September 11th 2001 in New York, and 7th July 2005 in London, there was a lot of openly anti-Muslim rhetoric from one of the right-wing political parties. The government passed a bill making this an illegal act but were attacked by some commentators as anti-democratic.