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Harm Principle, Offense Principle, and the Skokie Affair

by Raphael Cohen-Almagor
Political Studies ()

Abstract

The primary aims are to formulate principles conducive to safeguarding fundamental civil rights and to employ the theory to analyse the Skokie affair. The focus is on the ethical question of the constraints on speech. I advance two arguments relating to the 'Harm Principle' and the 'Offence Principle'. Under the 'Harm Principle', restrictions on liberty may be prescribed when there are sheer threats of immediate violence against some individuals or groups. Under the 'Offence Principle', expressions which intend to inflict psychological offence are morally on a par with physical harm and thus there are grounds for abridging them. Moving from theory to practice, in the light of the formulated principles, the ruling of the Illinois Supreme Court which permitted the Nazis to hold a demonstration in Skokie is argued to be flawed.

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