Saturday, January 28, 2023

Roger Partridge: Labour's problematic new blasphemy laws

Hate speech is back on the Parliamentary agenda for 2023. Justice Minister Kiri Allan’s slimmed down reform proposals are expected to pass into law before the election. Yet her reform is still fraught.

New Zealand’s existing hate speech laws apply only to inviolable characteristics. The protected traits are skin colour, race, ethnicity and national origin.

Allan’s predecessor, Kris Faafoi, proposed adding to these protected characteristics a raft of others, including religious and ethical beliefs, employment and family status, age, sex and gender - and even political opinion.

Faafoi’s reforms floundered when their full implications became apparent.

The prohibition on hate speech applies to speech that is intended to be "threatening, abusive, or insulting" and that is "likely to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule" any group of people based on their protected characteristics.

Adding “age” would catch a hostile slur like “OK boomer.” Adding “political opinion” would cover insulting and contemptuous comments about political opponents based on their left-wing or right-wing views. “Pale, male and stale” would count as three strikes.

It’s little wonder that neither Faafoi nor the Prime Minister could explain why criminalizing everyday speech made sense.

Allan’s ambitions are much narrower than those of her predecessor. In response to the Christchurch massacre, the Minister proposes merely to add “religious beliefs” to the list of protected characteristics.

Yet even this narrower reform is ill-conceived.

To understand why, you need only think back to the sad case of Israel Folau. The former rugby star’s career as a Wallaby came to an end following a repugnant tweet. Folau infamously claimed that a long list of “sinners,” including homosexuals, faced hell unless they repented.

Folau is an evangelical Christian. His views reflect scripture. And his religious beliefs command him to spread the word.

Not surprisingly, Folau’s evangelizing was widely condemned.

Yet to anyone sharing Folau’s religious beliefs, the condemnation was insulting. It consigned their sacred views to the dustbin, as those of a less tolerant age.

The criticism was also undoubtedly intended to excite ill-will towards Folau and those who share his views. Not to mention bringing them into contempt or ridicule.

Allan’s reform proposals will criminalise Folau’s critics. Are new blasphemy laws really what the Minister of Justice wants?

Roger Partridge is chairman and a co-founder of The New Zealand Initiative and is a senior member of its research team. He led law firm Bell Gully as executive chairman from 2007 to 2014. This article was first published HERE

1 comment:

Tinman said...

So near and yet so far.

The problem is not protecting religious expression. That is minor.

ALL speech MUST be protected, including that which you don't like.

Prosecute the consequences of speech, enact individual responsibility for speech (therefore stopping the shouting-"fire"-in-a-crowded-theatre type action) but leave the freedom of speech alone.

Only then can good people point out the error of thought and expression of those who have strayed.

Phil Blackwell