Vague law is bad law and the proposed legislation on hate speech is very, very vague.
Any speech that intends to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins, sex, marital status is already illegal and covered under the Human Rights Act.
The Free Speech Union briefing paper on proposed legislation spells out the dangers of extending that :
It is impossible to provide statutory protection for every group in society. The Government hasn’t specified which groups they think should be added to protected lists, saying they want the public to decide on that, yet they have referred to the classes of people protected against workplace discrimination – including sex, marital status, religious belief, ethical belief, race, and political opinion.
Blasphemy has only recently been removed as an offence under the law but the government wants to protect religious belief.
Neither Minister Faafoi nor Prime Minister Ardern would clearly exclude political opinion from protection. If included as a protected group, people could be imprisoned for insulting others’ political beliefs, and so the essence of our democracy and free and frank debate would be undermined.
Are we to be no freer than North Korea to debate politics, disagree with political views and poke the borax at politicians?
While bigoted and resentful opinions are perhaps widely considered indefensible or condemnable, that does not mean they should be made
illegal. Belonging to a particular group within society should not privilege individuals or remove the rights of others to hold opinions, whatever they may be, concerning that group. What does it say of certain groups, when they are given particular legal protection? What does it say of others when they are not? Who gets to decide/ re-decide/re-decide again, as
our country continues to change? Increasing the number of groups specifically protected under hate speech law is a fool’s errand, which will never cover enough groups but always cover too many groups, depending on who you ask.
It is entirely unclear how these laws would be applied in competing cases. For example, would a fundamentalist religious aherent’s expressed views on homosexuality, and the Rainbow Community’s response to that religion be equally “hateful”? Do those sentenced then have to share a cell for up to three years?
The “hate speech” law in the United Kingdom, on which the proposed New Zealand legislation is based, has a special section which explicitly states that “…discussion, criticism, or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents…” is exempt from the law. Troublingly, there is no such provision considered by our lawmakers at present.
The proposed changes seek to move the current law from
the Human Rights Act into the Crimes Act. This may sound like a technicality, but it means that Police and courts will be charged with defining “hate speech” and deciding where the line is.
It will see the courts recognise Parliament’s intention for this law to have a more active role in our country, despite the ambiguities related to how it should be applied.
“Hate speech” legislation has always existed outside of the Crimes Act because of the difficulties in defining hate. Both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice have been unable to clearly state where the line is. This is an irresponsible way to legislate, and once again reveals the fraught nature of these proposals. For a law to be legitimate, the people it regulates must be able to clearly see what it allows and what it prohibits.
In the past, actions have been illegal. Thought has been considered relevant only to the extent that there is demonstrable, objective evidence to speak to an individual’s intent. However, now sharing your thoughts with others (if they could be interpreted as ‘maintaining or normalising hatred’) could be illegal, absent any action. What you think may become illegal. . .
The dangerous path down which the proposed legislation would lead police can be seen here:
STREET PREACHING NZ posted a video to the social media platform in July which shows them being approached by a police officer on Karangahape Road.
In the video, the officer tells them “there is a difference between preaching and hate speech and you are very close to crossing the line”.
But the group argued they were only preaching and in fact, the people who had called the police on them had threatened their group.
“These people actually came up and assaulted us,” one member said.
“They have threatened to kill us, they have threatened to beat up these guys and say that we are preaching hate.”
But the police officer responds: “What you guys are saying is very subjective and saying it to people up here could be taken… in a way likely to incite violence, okay?” . .
Without knowing exactly what the people in the group had said we can’t know whether or not it was okay, but the report doesn’t show the officer making any attempt to find out.
If this happens under existing law, it would be much worse under the proposed legislation.
More than 10,000 people have already submitted against the proposed ‘hate speech’ changes:
The Kiwi public has responded loud and clear to the Government’s questions raised in the consultation document on proposed hate speech changes: they don’t want the Government policing their speech, says Jonathan Ayling, Campaign Manager for the Free Speech Union.
“More than 10,000 kiwis have submitted to the Ministry of Justice, claiming the ambiguous, unworkable changes amount to an overreach by the Government into our civil liberties. Engagement like this at the consultation phase shows how strongly New Zealander’s feel, and the threat they see to their freedoms in these changes. That us why these changes shouldn’t go forward.
“The website created to facilitate submissions to the Ministry of Justice on this issue, www.FreeSpeechSubmission.com, went live on 17, July, and in a little-over-two-weeks, we have had an overwhelming response from the public endorsingthe submission of the Free Speech Union, and submitting their own views.
“In particular we are encouraged by the huge quantity of feedback from minority communities pointing out that anti-speech laws are far more likely to damage rather than protect social cohesion.”
“Ministers’ inability to to explain what would be criminalised under these proposals reveals the danger they pose to free speech. Vague intention is an irresponsible way to legislate. The Government should listen to the public, and drop these proposed reforms.”
The signatories to this open letter show this is not a left vs right political issue.
It is a matter or right vs wrong ; freedom vs unwarranted restriction, democracy vs dictatorship.
If you haven’t already submitted the link above can help you.