Beware the hate speech censors

The Herald reports:

The Human Rights Act already includes provisions that cover both civil and criminal liability in relation to incitement of racial disharmony. However, there is a extremely high threshold – which in some instances requires the consent of the Attorney-General – before a prosecution can be laid.

It should be a very high threshold – basically inciting violence or hatred. For example advocating assaulting gays, executing Jews etc.

It acknowledged concerns about the adequacy and extent of current legislation.

“Freedom of speech and expression are really important human rights. But most rights are not absolute and we also have to remember that with rights come responsibilities,” a spokeswoman said.

“We need to make sure our laws strike the right balance between protecting the right to freedom of speech and appropriately ensuring that we protect the right to personal security and safety so that people do not suffer actual harm.

“We are not talking about hurt feelings or offence, but situations at the very serious end of the spectrum where serious damage or injury is caused.”

If there is no intention to ban speech that merely offends, then the current law is entirely adequate.

But civil liberties advocate Thomas Beagle said sometimes democracy could be painful and any new hate speech laws should promote more and better speech rather than suppress it.

The answer to bad speech is more speech, not less speech.

If a holocaust denier wants to give public lectures on why he or she thinks the holocaust never happened, then they should be allowed to. And I should be allowed to protest outside the venue (but not disrupt it), or ask questions, or criticise them, or mock them.

He wanted free speech in New Zealand to be genuinely free, even when those views may be unpopular or vilified by others and even when it offends.

There is no virtue in defending popular speech. The virtue is in defending speech we find offensive and believe is entirely wrong.


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