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

    Academics? lol. Umm, right..

    1. Thanks for writing this article.

      It reminds me to grab some cow and pig to eat (bacon cheese burger) while watching looney tunes and before I go feed my crate kept calves and chickens. nothing like low priced concentrated feedstock juvenile tender protein to feed a hungry family. if you don’t want it then families in brazil, china, and india do. god thank you for giving me animals for husbandry.

  2. We call a tree a “weeping willow”. Nobody ever told Barbara Walters that if they were a tree, they’d be a “weeping willow”. When we hear “weeping willow” the impression we form is a sad tree. These trees now have an inferiority complex and suffer from low self esteem.

    Let’s change the name of weeping willows so they can be happy and well balanced trees.

  3. The inmates have taken over the asylum. The madness must stop. The madness must have stopped, long ago, at the Constitution. The manifest tenor, thereof, to be precise. The manifest tenor of the Constitution is natural and God-given, according to the Framers. That which is natural and God-given is, by definition, universal. Freedom of speech is not qualified by the Constitution and is, therefore, absolute. Freedom of speech is universal which, by definition, includes Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, from whence, incidentally, many of the ancestors of the American Framers of the U.S. Constitution may have descended. Absolute freedom of speech is a freedom enjoyed by the English people, and courts must find that, which tyrants and dictators may oppose and defy.

    1st Amendment

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

  4. The left is without a doubt stark raving mad. See Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for prime examples.

    1. Judith……Exactly! Don’t just take our word for it. Give Joe and Kammy Faye a gander.

  5. The subject paper is of great importance because it is an established fact that the white dogs are systemically racist toward the black and brown dogs and the retraining of the white dogs should be started in the third month of their puppyhood. Instructions for righting this wrong can be found in the book of paws chapter four verse two.

  6. Once their tenured they can say anything quacky they want to and not fear the loss of their kibble.

  7. I will take the exact opposite take of these “professors”.

    Hate speech as a concept needs to be eliminated. Everyone is entitled to have the right to speak freely; it’s a basic human right that comes from God (or your deity of choice). The proper opposition to speech you hate is to present a reason for that speech being wrong, not to prevent it from being spoken or written. Everyone has the right to speak freely, and everyone also has the equal right to be offended.

  8. People were barbarians in the old days; they had an excuse. Now, the damn scholars are the madmen.

    1. A few weeks ago up in the US Congress banning experimenting with Human Animal Hybreds. It was voted down, basically giving legal cover to continue their mad scientist/Atlantean Moment.

      Looking at all these small pieces & joining them together in one’s mind it’s easy to see the disasters they are headed for.

      1. I checked site & he had a piece up I thought was interesting & that more people need to be constantly aware of what’s going on in their communities..

        “Local and federal law enforcement will be a primary target if these terrorists. In a recent conversation with federal law enforcement agents, I learned that they are baffled at the lack of active Antifa in Portland. It just so happens that I recently learned the reason why.

        From multiple sources, I have learned that the Sinaloas are crossing the border in force. They have been trained in paramilitary and light infantry tactics by the CHICOMS in Mexico. The cartel forces are headed to predetermined sights where weapons caches are being stored. These well-trained cartel members will soon be targeting, as I have just stated, local and federal law enforcement. Is this why the Portland terrorist response team quit their positions in fear of their lives as reported in the mainstream media? I can’t speak with certainty as to the collective reasons associated with the actions of Portland police officers, but it begs the question, what do they know that the rest of us do not?”

  9. So, activists and advocates who call humans or is it just animals? to take a knee, beg, good boy, girl, whatever, are psychopaths? #HateLovesAbortion

  10. The underlying message of these so-called professors is that this planet would be so much better if we could just eliminate all of the human beings that are destroying it (except them).

    1. Planned population schemes to relieve “burdens” is a forward-looking policy.

  11. “. . . the censure of speciesist hate speech.”

    So jail (just a fine?) for saying:

    — It’s a dog-eat-dog world.

    — She’s batty.

    — He’s dumb as an ox.

    — The cat’s got his tongue.

    — I’m taking a cat nap. (Implies that cats are lazy, good-for-nothings.)

    — That kid’s got ants in his pants.

    — He chickened out.

    — She’s a copy cat.

    — The dog days of August.

    — Something’s fishy.

    — . . .

      1. Wait. I’ve got a bunch more. Please report me as a “super real hater” — a veritable lion’s den of hatred.

    1. Trans-specieist appropriation. That said, follow a pride parade: lions, lionesses, and their [unPlanned] cubs as they play in gay revelry.

      1. I think it’s time for me to move on…JT just cares about his paycheck and the responses he gets…he would never sit down with any of us for a drink or dinner…he’s famous and has a job for life…JT never responses to anyone…he has students to do that for him…nice gig if you can get it…I am just bored…no intellectual challenge anymore…bye bye

  12. “As many know on this blog, I have long called for greater protections for animals and the recognition broader of animal rights.”

    I don’t believe you know what “Animal Rights is,” broader or narrower. I think you really mean animal welfare protections, which I’m all for.

    Before you commit yourself to being an “Animal Rights” person, you should know that the key assumption of Animal Rights (as opposed to Animal Welfare) is that to the AR true believer, animals and humans have equal moral standing.

    To the AR true believer, the capacity to suffer is a moral bright line that separates those living things from all other living things. The extended moral logic of this is that if your pet and a human stranger were in a burning house and you could only save one, you’d save your pet because the two lives are of equal moral value and your pet’s life is more imortant to you than is the life of a human stranger. (The “Me First” logic)

    In short, that if it’s immoral or unethical to “do something” to a human, it is no less immoral or unethical to do “it” to an animal. So if you wouldn’t keep a human as a pet, you shouldn’t keep an animal as as pet; if it is immoral to eat a human, it is no less so to eat a non-human animal.

    But . . . the Animal Rights ideology is either incoherent or it is as ghastly as any totalitarian ideology.

    The conundrum AR faces is this: the Animal Rights community (including PeTA) is mostly supportive of spaying and neutering pets: if it’s moral and desireable to forceably subject dogs, cats etc. to an unnecessary surgical procedure to remove their reproductive parts to make them docile and control their populations, why would it not be just as worthy to forceably spay and neuter humans for similar reasons?

    There’s also the question of AR groups euthanizing animals “to keep them from suffering.” I’ll let your imagination run with that one.

    If you want to read more about AR, you might check this (now defunct) blog out:

  13. Clearly these learned men have not spent much time with labrador retrievers. Labs are happy to be anywhere and happy to receive whatever attention they can. When we scold our yellow lab, he ducks his head for a little while, then looks up, and with a faint wag, hopes there’s a dog treat in his immediate future. The biggest problem with this breed is that they will walk off with any stranger, and happily go home with them, as if they’ve known the person for years.
    And the Sheffield professors may consider as racist hate speech, the name our grandsons gave their labrador retriever out at their ranch:
    “Black Labs Matter”.

  14. These professors care more about the feelings of animals, who cannot understand most words, only tone, than they do for the humans who can understand them.

    This is a manufactured crisis. Humane animal laws pertain to husbandry and care.

    Stand up to this madness of criminalizing, or in some cases, forcing speech.

    Throwing away freedoms and rights would be one of the stupidest acts of human history.

      1. Prairie…..The first time I saw that cartoon was in the 1980’s, and It’s just as funny today! We do that routine with our dog.. and he gets so excited!LOL So glad you posted it!

  15. I might also add that all hate speech laws should be eliminated as there is no end to its expansion. As each new federal, state, country, city or municipality convenes there are members who can always find a new item to add to the growing list. Criminalization of speech is no different from the ultra-conservative movements like ISIS and some other branches of Islam and Christianity where adherents are punished even unto death for speaking out, or speaking blasphemy, against what are essentially cultural or societal rules as interpreted or determined by men. We must not forget that all divinely held religious tenets are/were captured, interpreted and promulgated by men who were or at least claimed to be inspired by their divine being.

    When ugly, rude or offensive speech, or even violent action, is issued against a person of a particular race, color, religion, gender, etc, those actions are more frequently than not in reaction to a particular offensive or objected action issued by the victim. Defining those actions or speech as “hate” and therefore more worthy of a tougher penalty is a slippery slope that if not stopped will result in almost every crime being relegated to a hate crime. If a white man murders a black man is that any more or less of a “hate” crime than a white man who murders another white man, or a black man who murders another black man regardless of the reason?

    We actually learn from offensive behavior, whether it is about race, religion, culture, gender, etc, and as a result we alter our own behavior, usually for the better. I feel as though we are on a slippery slope that is dangerously pandering to special interest groups in an attempt to remain in power. That pandering is about to alter our society to the point where no one is ever offended. What a terribly limiting human condition that will become.

    1. ISIS was a far-left movement, as in totalitarian ideology, that was pursuing social justice and social progress through wars without borders, transnational terrorism, and planned people… persons (i.e. human sacrificial rites).

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