Law change need to protect religious groups against hate speech

The Human Rights Commission wants the government to consider changing the law to protect religious groups against hate speech.

Justice minister Andrew Little has announced he will be fast-tracking a review of the laws.

However, unlike changes to gun laws, which look set to pass with near unanimity, changes to hate speech legislation could be seriously contentious.

Existing law protects only groups defined by race

The Human Rights Commission chief legal advisor Janet Anderson-Bidois said the Christchurch terrorist attack shows why the law needs to be changed.

“We have current laws around that in the Human Rights Act, but those laws only cover race, colour, ethnic or national origin.

They don’t cover hostility directed at people or groups because of the religion and they don’t cover sexual orientation or gender or disability.”

Hate Speech applies to groups, not individuals

Hate speech online is covered by the Harmful Digital Communications Act, but that’s of no use to anyone who’s abused face-to-face because of their religion, sexual orientation or disability.

Defamation laws protect an individual from the worst excesses of freedom of speech to some extent.

But as it stands, there’s no law preventing hate speech being directed at someone even because of their religion if they are just walking down the street.

Defamation protects individuals but not groups

Defamation laws do not apply to groups.

Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman suggests they may be a good place to start when considering hate speech directed at groups on the basis of their religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

“If you’re targeting an individual, telling a mistruth about them, that harms them or undermines them,” Ghahraman said.

“Calling them a pedophile for example, that’s unlawful, but if you say Muslims or gay men are pedophiles, that will harm them in the same way – it will prevent them from getting jobs, it will have hate targeted to them online – but there’s nothing saying that’s illegal,” she said.

Hate crimes are not the same as hate speech

The distinction between hate speech and hate crimes is often omitted in discussions about hate speech.

A hate crime is something that is already illegal. It is concerned with a targeted attack on a particular group for hateful purposes. Judges look at hateful intent when sentencing.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

Tags: ,