Treaty of Waitangi guarantees religious freedom

Hate speech law

Hate speech has been the subject of much debate in Parliament lately. Debate has centred on protecting individuals from such speech via the Human Rights Act.

It’s been an ongoing question with pros and cons. Should the Act be expanded – or not?

The legislation already specifically protects people from being subject to hate speech because of their colour, race, ethnic or national origins.

Now the Government has decided the Act is to be amended. It will specifically include religious groups, the Minister of Justice, Kiri Allan, says.

Cardinal John Dew is one religious leader likely to be firmly in favour of the amendment.

In fact, during his homily at the interdenominational church service at Waitangi in 2020, he said he would like us all to recommit to protecting the beliefs of followers of all religions and non-religious people.

“It is time to recommit ourselves to protecting the faiths of all who live here – of Māori custom and spirituality, of the different Christian denominations, of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Bahai’i and many other faiths; and also the freedom of religion and conscience of those who profess no faith,” he said.

He pointed out that in New Zealand our heritage was religious tolerance, religious inclusion and religious acceptance.

This heritage was sealed when the Treaty of Waitangi – Te Tiriti o Waitangi – was signed in 1840.

At that time, Bishop Jean Baptiste Pompallier New Zealand’s first Catholic Bishop of New Zealand, asked for religious freedom to be respected.

In response, Crown representative Captain William Hobson formally affirmed: “Ko ngā whakapono katoa i Ingarani, o ngā Weteriana, o Roma, me te ritenga Māori, e tikanga ngatahitia e ia – the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome and also Māori custom shall alike be protected.”

Why the religious freedom amendment was passed

The current amendment to the Human Rights legislation stems from a recommendation suggested by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the 2019 Christchurch terror attack.

It followed extensive consultation, with more than 19,000 submissions on six proposals.

While just one change tohas  the Act been agreed, the Government says it intends asking for further work to be done alongside a wider range of groups.

These groups could include women, disabled people and the rainbow community.

The debate goes on

The divisive policy debate around expanding the Human Rights Act may continue.

Not everyone agrees extending the Act to include protection from hate speech is a good idea, for example.

Not surprisingly, the Free Speech Union isn’t in favour of it.

The Union is commending the Minister for listening to the overwhelming public response calling for free speech to be upheld.

‘Hate speech laws don’t work. For over 18 months, we have led the charge calling on the Government to back down from the idea that hate can be outlawed,” says spokesperson Jonathan Ayling

“Over 80 percent of the submissions against the ‘hate speech law’ proposals specifically endorsed our submission … with over 50,000 signatures.

‘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 …

“The Ministry of Justice has just spent over two years working on this very issue. It’s time better solutions were given a chance, solutions that elevate dialogue, reason,and counter-speech.

“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.”


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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