Hate speech: who decides who needs protecting?

Hate Speech

On Friday submissions close for the Government’s proposed changes to the Human Rights Act 1993.

The proposal, which the Government “agrees to in principle”, is to make illegal “hate speech” against a range of different groups of people.

This is a very dangerous step for any society to make.

It seems incongruous, doesn’t it? Surely protecting people from hatred is a good thing, especially if those people are a vulnerable minority.

The trouble comes, as the 20th century has so violently taught us, that the moment governments take the authority away from people to speak freely and openly (even forcefully) about things we disagree on, is the moment we open the door to tyranny.

Jim Flynn eloquently stated before his death last year, that in the pursuit of truth, you either have a contest of ideas or you have a contest of power.

“When you forbid certain ideas, the only way you can be effective is by being more powerful. So it becomes a contest of strength,” Flynn said.

He is right.

It doesn’t matter if the ideas outlawed come from the left or the right of the political spectrum, the end result will inevitably be violence.

Under Lenin and Stalin’s Russia, it was the voices on the right who were silenced and exterminated.

Under Hitler’s Nazi Germany it was the voices on the left who were silenced and exterminated.

Chris Trotter writing in this page last month (July 2, 2021) described “the urge to suppress ideas and beliefs which contradict what one fervently believes to be the truth is not a healthy urge. It is a totalitarian urge.”

Currently in Western culture, the dominant voice on social media that ruthlessly silences opposing voices comes from the political left of centre.

But it will not always be so.

There have been and are currently today, many regimes that are just as dominant on the political right.

It could be argued (if we are allowed to argue) that there is truth in both directions; the left’s desire for equality for all people and the right’s desire to see freedom for the individual, both need to have their contest of ideas allowed to be voiced / spoken / printed / drawn and sung, for truth to be discovered.

I wonder what Jacinda Ardern means by “hate speech”?

I wonder how our judges will interpret this phrase should it pass into law?

In the discussion document from the Ministry of Justice called: “Proposals against incitement of hatred and discrimination”, it is stated that: “Hate speech is a broad term that is not used in Aotearoa law. It is generally defined as speech that attacks an individual or group based on common characteristics, for example ethnicity, religion or sexuality.”

Well that doesn’t really help me much.

The next question in my mind is what does “speech that attacks” mean? Continue reading

  • Stu Crosson is the senior minister of Hope Church, Dunedin.
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