My 6-year-old grandson loves our lakeside playground. A week ago some scumbags stole the park equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars. The theft would have required a gang, planning, bolt cutters and transport.
The community has not hung back in expressing their views.
Who they are and why they did it should not matter. We should hate those who take joy from children.
If the government has its way then who did the theft will matter. If it was one of the groups who the government says should be exempted from criticism then it will be me that is the criminal. I have incited you to hate them. I will be liable for a $50,000 fine and or three years jail.
The Minister, Hon Kris Faafoi, is assuring us this will not happen. Faafoi is totally unqualified to be Minister of Justice. His assurances are worthless.
The government has published a discussion paper on criminalising hate speech. The minister’s introduction states “incitement is intolerable” because it makes “people feel unsafe and unwelcome”. This law is to protect our feelings.
The paper cites the report of the Royal Commission of Enquiry recommending the existing law be clarified and the penalties made harsh. There is no evidence that hate speech was the motivation for the Australian terrorist.
Hate speech laws are always confusing because the concept is subjective. There is no objective test. What makes you feel unsafe is totally subjective. Some people feel unsafe in the dark. Hate speech will be whatever the authorities decide.
The government wants to add groups that should be exempt from ridicule and has suggested “religion, gender, sexuality, and disability”. The paper does not explain why these groups. We can easily think of others. Why not the vertically challenged? Height matters. Most US presidents have been over 6 foot tall.
Then what about the most misunderstood? Old white men, a group with which I feel some affinity. There are university courses on “white privilege” that seem designed to make old white men feel “unsafe and unwelcomed”.
Once we are protecting people’s feelings the list of groups is infinite.
The government’s second reason for having hate speech laws is even worse. New Zealand has signed some UN treaties banning hate speech. This government has never seen a UN treaty it did not want to sign. None of these treaties has been approved by parliament or the electorate.
Cancel culture is sweeping the West. It is identity politics. Persuading voters that they are victims who need protecting.
Despite the PM’s denial that the hate speech ban will extend to politics, that paper asks whether the ban should include “political opinion, which includes the lack of a particular political opinion or any political opinion”.
The proposals are ill-thought-out and dangerous.
What the government should be doing is examining fundamental principles.
Why is free speech important? Free speech is the building block on which democracy is constructed. Out of discussion and debate we test ideas. Only by allowing the advancement of false propositions can we prove they are wrong.
The Minister’s claim we can ban some speech but still have free speech for “important issues” is nonsense. When government decides what are the “important issues” for “public debate” we are no longer free.
Freedom is the ability to say what is not only wrong but vile.
Views we regard as “safe” today were once regarded as very “unsafe” such as having a woman as Prime Minister.
It is important that the state protects religious freedom including the right to hold no religious belief.
Religious freedom does not extend to the state giving special protection to religious opinions. Fifty-thousand youths and maidens were slain in sacrifice to the god Huitzilopochtli in one year. If he has any believers today we should be able to express our disgust without being threatened with imprisonment.
It is a shock for some new migrants from countries where blasphemy is a capital offence to discover New Zealanders are free to ridicule their religion.
In a democracy, it is not the role of the government to protect us from having our beliefs challenged no matter how “unsafe and unwelcome” that may make us feel. The risk of being offended is the cost we must pay for having the right to say what we think. Once we empower the state to protect us from being offended we are no longer a free society.
Free speech is our defence against tyranny. It is our ability to say that the government is wrong.
Even if I am wrong in believing that open dialogue results in better decisions and a more tolerant society, I am still in favour of free speech.
I want to live in a society where I am free to incite you to hate the scumbags who took away my grandson’s playground joy.
– Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.
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