Johnathan Baker, in a comment recently delivered to the post Pope Benedict XVI Markets Hate, made the following point.
We live in a basically relativistic society which unfortunately means that it is difficult to dialogue in a respectful manner - if you disagree with someone, you are a messenger of "hate". This is very sad.
I agree that it is sad. However, let us not go so far as to say that hate speech does not exist. Just as a lot of speech these days is currently mislabeled hate speech (by those who want to silence it), a lot of hate speech is currently mislabeled as legitimate and appropriate.
Where is the distinction?
First, let’s start with the position that a person is to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. In other words, it is the duty of the person who makes an accusation of "hate speech" to prove his case. A mere accusation is not sufficient or legitimate.
Second, the accuser must demonstrate that the accused has made false or misleading statements motivated by unfounded hostility towards the target group. Motivated, that is, out of unwarranted hatred and desire to promote unreasoned hatred in others.
This is hate speech:
It says that religion itself is responsible for 9-11. It invites the viewer to take the hostility deservedly attributed to those directly responsible to 9-11 and to apply it to a much larger target group, those who believe in one or more gods. It says, for example, "Think of the Amish with the same contempt that you have for the 9-11 hijackers."
The Pledge of Allegiance is hate speech – it invites people to adopt the same attitude towards those who do not support a nation under God that they would adopt to those who support rebellion, tyranny, and injustice for all.
So is the national motto: "Those who do not trust in God are not to be thought of as one of us."
This is not hate speech:
There is nothing in this that invites unreasoned hostility towards a target group. In fact, a religious person can look upon the sign and imagine a world of chaos and destruction as his "world without religion." When I see this message, I tend to imagine Mars. It is a world without religion, but not the type of world that want the Earth to become.
Neither is a T-shirt that says "Jesus Saves" or "What Would Jesus Do?" even though, if the speaker is not careful about what parts of the Bible he is pointing to, it may not be a useful moral guide.
In particular, it is not hate speech to say, "I believe that your proposition P is false for the following reasons." The morally challenged person in such a case is the person who points to the individual who said, "I think you are wrong for the following reason," and brands him a hate-monger without justification. This is the true hate-monger.
In all of this, the burden of proof rests with the accuser, not the accused. When the accuser cannot provide good reasons for his accusation, we have reason to suspect an ulterior motive – something driving the individual to grasp at anything that gives even the slightest glimmer of legitimacy to the hate he has for others.