This (error-ridden) recent item from the right-wing U.S. News & World Report criticizes the latest defeat for human liberty to befall the poor Canadians: namely, the loss of their right to freely express hatred for homosexuals, even (get ready for this!) when they have religious grounds for their hatred and bigotry. How will Canada survive if it doesn't follow the U.S. lead and acknowledge a blanket license for religiously-inspired hatred? Already, from the increasingly ridiculous right-wing corners of the U.S. blogosphere, we hear the mocking clucking of the libertarian pundits, "Pity poor Canada, they have no free speech."
It is true that if you despise homosexuality, and if you want to freely express that view, especially on religious grounds, you're better off in the U.S. It's also true that if you're skeptical about U.S. motives in Iraq (and elsewhere) and think the invasion was on a par, morally, with the Soviet invasion of Aghanistan; if you believe nationalized health care is preferable to a system which caters to the needs of the insurance industry; if you think redistributive taxation is a requirement of justice; if, in short, you dissent from the neoliberal paradigm and chauvinist nationalism that dominate the public sphere in the United States, you will have far more freedom of speech in Canada: for example, your views might be expressible outside your living room, perhaps, say, in major newspapers, or even on television.
But how could this compare to the right to declare homosexuality a moral disorder based on divine revelation? Any country that wouldn't allow that would clearly have left the bosom of human liberty.
Now don't misunderstand me. Canada is a civilized country, and so the fact that Canada takes seriously the post-WWII European consensus--namely, that naked bigotry, religiously motivated or otherwise, is a danger to humanity--makes perfect sense. But the U.S. is different. In the U.S. I much prefer our more-or-less "libertarian" regime governing speech, and for reasons Fred Schauer pegged two decades ago in his book on the subject: not because the "marketplace" of ideas, such as it is, will yield the truth, or because speech doesn't "harm" people (it does, all the time), but rather because there is no reason to have confidence that the agents of the state in America will exercise their regulatory powers in the service of human well-being and enlightenment.
So I admire Canada, not so much for their approach to free speech, per se, but rather for having achieved a level of civilization that permits them to regulate expression without sacrificing the central values of the post-Enlightenment world. Nothing of human value is lost--let's repeat that, just to be clear, "nothing"--when the right to express contempt (whether dressed up in the language of morality and religion, or not) for Jews or Gays or Blacks is sanctioned. The marketplace of ideas, the search for truth, is unhindered. By contrast, when the marketplace of ideas is subject to the "discipline" of the actual marketplace and its corporate masters, then free speech and the search for truth suffer on a daily basis, as they do right now in America.
But don't expect the finger-wagging libertarians in the USA to notice.
UPDATE: It was plainly a mistake not to say more about the errors in the description of Canadian law in the U.S. News essay linked above, which I mentioned only in passing. Canadian hate speech prohibitions do not bar priests from teaching that homosexuality is a moral disorder; they do not bar public debate about gay marriage; they do not, in short, impose any restrictions on discussion of homosexuality. What they bar is hateful rhetoric ("kill all fags") in public that might be incitements. But I'll post more on this in a bit.
FURTHER UPDATE: A reply to David Bernstein is here.