Thursday, November 24, 2022

Jonathan Ayling: A win for free speech


Hate speech laws are a fool's errand that make things worse

Time has been called on overhauling ‘hate speech laws’ in New Zealand. After sitting in Labour’s manifesto for years, and two Ministers of Justice failing to build support for the proposals, maybe they’ve seen the light: legislation is no antidote to hate. 

Minister Kiri Allan confirmed Saturday morning on Newshub Nation that the only proposal which will be enacted from last year’s proposal consultation is the inclusion of religion as a protected class. This is a major backdown from the intention to expand penalties significantly for hate speech (from 3 months in prison to 3 years and/or a fine from $7,000 to $50,000), to include a host of new protected groups, and to amend ‘incitement to discrimination. 

For free speech loving Kiwis, this is a major win. But do even these limited changes make sense? 

Both ACT and National (it’s about time Luxon said where he stood) have committed to opposing this legislation. The basic issue still remains: silencing opinion, even condemnable opinions (which do not amount to incitement to violence, which is already illegal), doesn’t deal with a lack of social cohesion. 


And if hate speech laws don’t work for other ‘vulnerable communities', we need to rethink the entire venture. The question, ‘if this group, why not that group’ is legitimate. If hate speech laws do work to protect vulnerable communities, like religious groups, then why won't the Minister commit to including other vulnerable groups too? It’s because she herself has admitted they could make the situation worse. Why is this glaring truth not then relevant to religious groups? 

The fact of the matter is hate speech laws (even if they’re just extending protected classes by one group) make things worse. 

The Government must stand for Kiwis' right to express their opinions in speech and do away with the notion that gagging voices resolves complex issues. Sections 61 and 131 of the Human Rights Act should be repealed entirely and simple incitement to violence outlawed as speech beyond the pale of free expression. Until then, we’re making social cohesion worse by hand-picking which groups we’re allowed to be derogatory about, and which we can’t. This is hardly a winning strategy for unity. 


In 2019, then Justice Minister Andrew Little announced that ‘Blasphemy Libel laws’ would be removed from the statute books. Are hate speech laws that will stop Kiwis from claiming that Glorivale is predatory and harmful to children, or that Christians are homophobic and intolerant, or that Muslims are commanded to be violent by their God, really that different from what we just removed from our law as antiquated? 

It goes without saying that we don’t want religious groups lumped into monolithic groups without any nuance or insight. But is this change really going to stop that?    

Two Justice Ministers have now failed in pushing their ideological agenda of expanded ‘hate speech’ laws through and have now passed this poisoned chalice to the Law Commission for a ‘deep dive.’ The Ministry of Justice has just spent over two years working on this very issue. What will the Law Commission discover that the Minister of Justice hasn’t? What if the Law Commission recommends extending penalties or including more groups? Will the Government walk around the mountain again? 


It’s time better solutions were given a chance, solutions that elevate dialogue, reason, and counter-speech. Hate speech is a problem, but the problem is the hate, not the speech. As the American journalist Jonathan Rauch claims, ‘trying to fix the hate by silencing the speech is like trying to fix climate change by breaking all the thermometers.’ 

Today’s announcement is a good start, but we need to look at whether hate speech laws have any place in our law. Ultimately, they’re a fool's errand that actually make the situation worse.

Jonathan Ayling is the Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.


Tinman said...

Mr Ayling is correct but if you have any anti-speech law you have lost and that includes speech deliberately inciting violence.

That, as well as shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre etc, can (and is) dealt with under other laws.

Any anti-speech law will be abused by those determined to shut down opposing points of view. Note how these-type groups are already using words like "violence" and "injury" in their complaints - often complaints ridiculous (eg Woman = human adult female is unacceptable) in nature.

They use these words because they know these are "trigger" words that help sway public opinion.

Only genuine free speech along with good people prepared to use that free speech to negate any speech they note as incorrect can be acceptable in a free world.

Given recent reported (or not depending on where you look) events that last requirement may be the hardest to achieve.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

I find it so funny in a sick joke sort of way that the religious are to be regarded as 'vulnerable' when they zealously persecute people who do not comply with their beliefs when they are in power.

Obi-Wan said...

It's good to hear that most of this bill has now been consigned to the trash, sorry, recycling bin, but religion has been kept! What a minefield, Islam, Christianity, Hindu, Buddhism, few can argue about these as religions, but what about the less established religions, and probably the most problematical part of this, who decides what qualifies as a religion under the legislation and gets protection? As a Jedi, my religion doesn't need any protection from the law, we have our own ways of influencing the weak minded who might criticize us.

Ted said...

So, 'Religious' groups are now a protected species. Now we ned to define 'Religion'. The traditional concept is of following a divine teaching, be it (in no particular order) Buddhism, Christianity (in all its guises), Hinduism, Islam, Zen et al. It has in recent time come to encompass climate change, feminism, sun-worship and who only knows what else.
All that is needed is someone to say "This is my religion" and - lo and behold - instant protection.
Several years ago, I attempted to discuss from the perspective of physics and science, aspects of Biblical record with a Priest. I was told bluntly "these are subjects not open to debate or discussion".
Is it that their belief (or faith) is so fragile that it is unable to refute any debate or cannot withstand scrutiny?
Good luck with this one.