Not in Front of the Shih Tzu: Professors Call for Hate Speech Protections to be Extended to Animals (Updated)

Two professors at the University of Sheffield have published a piece in the Oxford Journal of Legal Studies to extend hate speech protections to animals to deal with hateful “speciesist” remarks. Drs. Josh Milburn and Alasdair Cochrane insist that such protections will help achieve a “more benign human–animal relations within society.”  The need for speech criminalization is based on the view that “some animals do seem to have their social confidence eroded because of their awareness of the risk of violence.”


We previously discussed the campaign by PETA to end the use of animal references in pejorative comments. It called for the end of the use of pig, chicken, pig, rat, snake and other references to “stand up for justice by rejecting supremacist language.”

These two academics go further to demand actual speech crimes and controls to protect animals:

“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 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.”

 What was striking to me in the work is the reliance on the writings of NYU Professor Jeremy Waldron who I debated a couple years ago at Rice University over his work in establishing speech codes and crimes. Despite my respect for him as an academic, I have long objected to Waldron’s work as inimical to free speech and creating a slippery slope of ever-expanding censorship.  That danger is evident in this latest work.  The professors embrace Waldron’s concept of “group defamation” and the harm it causes to individuals in society. They then extend that concept to animals:

“the best reading of Waldron’s theory must include certain animals within its protective remit…some states have enacted constitutional provisions for the sake of animals, some of which explicitly recognise the ‘dignity’ of animals.But, again, none of these provisions acknowledges that animals possess the Waldronian sense of civic dignity: none views animals as possessing equal social standing, membership, status, and rights. No community truly regards its animal residents as members of society, and none recognises them as equals.”

The argument illustrates how speech controls and crimes develop into an insatiable appetite for more and more regulation in maintaining what Waldron calls a better society. More and more speech is pulled into this vortex of criminalization and regulation.

As many know on this blog, I have long called for greater protections for animals and the recognition broader of animal rights. This includes greater standing to argue for relief in court on behalf of such animal interests. However, I am also a free speech advocate. Indeed, academics like Waldron probably view me as something of an extremist in my own right. I admit that I oppose most regulation and criminalization of speech. I may be a free speech dinosaur in that sense. Traditional free speech values are certainly out of vogue among academics.  I believe in largely unfettered free speech, particularly for statements made off campus or outside of a classroom. I seriously do not believe that these animals are harmed by such comments but I know that free speech will be further harmed by their criminalization.

The danger is really not a line of woke Weimaraners because this really protects the sensibilities of humans.  Indeed, it may be an odd form of anthropomorphism in assuming hurt feelings that humans would have. Animals can clearly sense anger and disapproval. However, few leave the room when you complain of living a “dog’s life” or “eating like a pig.”

There is a point about such phraseology but I prefer Dr. Doolittle’s version:

You can read the study here.


Soon after this column was posted, I received a thoughtful and clarifying response from Professor Milburn.  With his approval, I can including that response to this posting so that readers understand the position of the authors. I appreciate his reaching out and I encourage readers to consider the more nuanced view that he is suggesting:

Thank you for blogging about the article I wrote with Alasdair Cochrane on animals and hate speech. We, of course, welcome engagement and analysis from legal scholars.
I am emailing to clarify that, in the article, we do not say that animals should be protected from hate speech. We argue for a conditional: given that we have found — in existing scholarly discourse about the foundations of hate speech law — no compelling reason to draw a line, we conclude that if humans should be protected by hate-speech laws, then (in principle) animals should be protected by hate-speech laws.
I believe that this is a conclusion that could be endorsed by people who support the existence of hate-speech laws and those who do not. Indeed, I have previously spoken with a colleague who is, like you, very sceptical of hate-speech laws, and he suggested that Alasdair and I frame the paper explicitly as a reductio-style argument against hate-speech laws. We do not do this in the paper — indeed, we do not take a side in the question of whether hate-speech laws are justified at all. But we welcome engagement with our arguments from people who are generally supportive of hate-speech laws and those who are generally opposed.
Anyways; thank you, again, for taking the time to write about our paper.


84 thoughts on “Not in Front of the Shih Tzu: Professors Call for Hate Speech Protections to be Extended to Animals (Updated)”

  1. I got nothin’. People like these have ceased being functional humans, and just ten or fifteen years ago would have been enjoying a padded room.

    If this isn’t evidence that modern liberals seek not to make a difference but rather to make themselves feel better about themselves (that would actually be narcissistic selfishness, folks, not altruism. Altruism often requires sacrifice and compromise, and definitely seeking to understand your quarry non-judgementally) because they create nothing but negative experiences for themselves and have the self-esteem snd self awareness of a flatworm, nothing does.

    ENOUGH, already.

  2. Jonathan: I am a firm supporter of the humane and respectful treatment of animals–especially those we consume in the millions every year. When we gather around the Thanksgiving table we, at least in our household, always thank the turkey for giving its life so we can enjoy the holiday. We would never use a pejorative about our recently departed feathered friend.

    That said, I doubt the criminalization of “speciesist hate speech” is going to solve the problem. If a wild brown bear invades our backyard and starts to attack my wife’s prized poodle I don’t stand by and rationalize that act by saying to my wife: “Honey, the bear is just doing what wild animals do in an urban environment–trying to find something to eat”. No, I would chase the bear away with the pejorative: “Get the f… out of our yard!” I doubt the bear would consider my statement as “hateful”.

    The larger dilemma is every year we slaughter millions of animals to satisfy our supposed but questionable carnivorous instincts. Millions of acres of land are dedicated to raising animals for our dinner tables. And to do this they are injected with growth hormones and anti-biotics that cause all sorts human health problems. Animal flatulence produces huge amounts of methane that ends up in the atmosphere–contributing to global warming. I’m not a vegan but there is something to say for consuming mostly fruits, nuts, vegetables and legumes in terms of better health outcomes. That makes the occasional rack of lamb or T-bone even more enjoyable. We could express more “dignity” for animals by raising, killing and consuming less of them.

    1. I like Michael Pollan’s compact advice for our diets: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. (“Eat food” refers to eating real food rather than edible food-like products like Cheetos and Coke.)

    2. Dennis: “When we gather around the Thanksgiving table we, at least in our household, always thank the turkey for giving its life so we can enjoy the holiday. We would never use a pejorative about our recently departed feathered friend.”


      I hope that is a joke. Wasn’t there a scene like this on SNL? Do you hold a dignified funeral for the leftovers?

      There was a time when people thanked God for the bounty on the table. I think that is why it is called “Thanks Giving”. I am trying to imagine portraits of famous turkeys in cathedrals and halls of power [okay, I guess we already have those, one where he is sitting in bushes.].

      But thanks for that post. It makes decoding your other posts much easier.

      By the way, the turkey didn’t ‘give’ its life. Its head was chopped off under protest.

      1. I laughed at this Young and thought it was very insightful.

        However, as November comes close, Anonymous the Stupid quakes in his boots, for on Thanksgiving Day he might be the turkey on the table.

    3. Dennis: “When we gather around the Thanksgiving table we, at least in our household, always thank the turkey for giving its life so we can enjoy the holiday. We would never use a pejorative about our recently departed feathered friend.”

      You forgot to say that some of your best friends are turkeys.

  3. And I thought wokeness was running amok here in Madison, WI. Sheffield U has opened up a whole new dimension.

    Full disclosure: I occasionally apologize to my cat.

      1. Young: My cat does not apologize. She has, however, mastered the silent meow, designed to instill guilt.

  4. How do they reconcile hate speech for animals with our carnivorous appetites? Do they exclude those we prefer to eat from hate speech or does killing an animal for food get an exception. This is beyond stupid.

    I think we should probably start by criminalizing the professors’ hypothesis as it insults and defames the human species. They should be charged, prosecuted and jailed for violating hate speech laws agains humanity. See how stupid this becomes when carried to its logical conclusion. Geez, how did these characters become professors or are they escapees from some mental institution.

    1. The requirements for doctorates and professorships have plummeted significantly because A: modern students couldn’t meet the previous requirements (five and six year undergrads anyone? I assure you those kids by and large did just as poorly in high school, but we no longer fail students. Haven’t for some time), and B: because institutions value ideological purity over acuity of intelligence and fairness, and crassly, likely because those things directly impact their bottom line. This is not new, everyone needs to pay more attention.

  5. How is it that Turley can find somewhere somehow, a teacher or professor that says something stupid, but he can’t find one word that his part time employer says at FOXNEWS everyday?

    1. All media have commentators who blurt out misbegotten thoughts. The essential point Professor Turley is always making is that some–not Fox–are hostile to free speech and demonstrate that hostility with speech codes, cancel culture, censorship, etc. He appears on Fox, not because he agrees with their editorial line, but because they agree with his support of free speech.

      Now I’m sure you guys will come up with some convoluted nonsense about how Fox or Trump or the GOP restricts your speech or your vote, but they don’t. I’m sure you guys will say that CNN, Twitter, academia, etc. don’t actually believe in restricting speech, but they’re already gleefully bullying people into silence.

      Whatever you come up with, on this blog, nobody will cancel you. I’m not expecting Jack Dorsey to extend us the same courtesy, but that’s how narcissists roll.

  6. Now I know I have seen everything and I can die peacefully…pet animals only know love and kindness and recognize only a few commands…and remember pet animals only hear words in their language in their country…so if I cuss out a dog kindly with love in Mandarin but it’s done in Europe, is that hate speech. And suppose the pet is deaf. And what about birds, chickens, pigs, cows, you see how ridiculous this is…how did these 2 morons get a doctorate degree??? much less a job!!!

  7. Dog Day Afternoon, Tiger Woods, Lion King, the Golden Bear, The Garden of Eden, and about a million team nicknames. Oh Yeah. Say goodbye to bull and bear markets

  8. Surely these guys are following the footsteps of their noted countryman Jonathan Swift and this is their Modest Proposal. The best satire is, after all, written in elevated language with ideas presented so cogently that the reader first believes and is appalled and then, as the argument becomes more outrageous, begins to question the seriousness of the writer. Use of Waldron’s theory to advance hate speech from humans to non-humans–certainly laughable, just as satire intends.

  9. Wuhan bats are salivating at the prospect of being able to sue for being libeled and slandered for causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

  10. We are seeing daily examples that we live in an era where society is as wacky as when people were burned at the stake for religious beliefs or excommunicate people for arguing the world was not flat.

  11. It’s as if something from outer space captured the minds of academics and turned them into buffoons. But I guess if corporations can be considered “people,” then animals can be thought to have a “sense of civic dignity.” Of course, the logical extension of their foolish argument would demand an end to the use of any animal products, be it food, clothing, etc. After all, we can’t have animals feeling victimized by being treated as mere commodities.

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