‘Hate speech’ laws promise cohesion at the cost of division
by Dane Giraud
The Government’s proposed hate speech laws are being presented as a tool for much needed social cohesion. However, few who advocate for these changes can tell us how cohesion will be practically achieved.
The story we are told is that, using the deterrent of hefty prison sentences and substantial fines, harmful speech can be successfully policed. Yet, if speech is driven by deeply held belief, state suppression will not make that belief or the desire to express it simply disappear.
Whatever hate speech laws pretend to be, they are not a remedy for racism. Indeed, on the contrary, “hate speech” laws, both traditionally and in the contemporary context, have proved incredibly incendiary.
Even supporters of “hate speech” laws will often stumble upon this uncomfortable potentiality. A spokeswomen for the Islamic Women’s Council New Zealand noted that “debate about the (hate speech) proposal will see the Muslim community subject to further abuse. There is a danger that people will be unhappy with the law and then they will blame the Muslim community for it”.
Former president of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Nadine Strossen, explains why such laws generate so much resentment in her 2018 book Hate: Why We Should Resist It With Free Speech by claiming that “hate speech laws not only violate the cardinal viewpoint neutrality, but also the emergency principles, by permitting government to suppress speech solely because its message is disfavoured, disturbing, or feared to be dangerous, by government officials or community members, and not because it directly causes imminent serious harm”.
Another supporter of “hate speech” laws, Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley, fails to address “hate speech” law’s propensity towards division, despite being an expert on white supremacist groups.
Along with being an ancient hatred, antisemitism is also a conspiracy theory. Taking citizens’ rights away in the name of “protecting” Jews has the potential to affirm many of the far-Right and hard-Left narratives on Jewish control.
It seems extraordinary that the potential dangers here haven’t been part of the conversation. Especially considering we are seeing antisemitism rise exponentially in Europe, in spite of the continent having robust and far-reaching “hate speech” laws.
Aren’t these laws meant to be about creating a safer environment for minorities?
Troublingly, our Human Rights Commission admits that the term “hate speech” has “no definition under international law, and national definitions vary”. They have also published various international rulings used to justify the theory that “hate speech” leads to cumulative harmful effects, with the caveat that empirical evidence on this thesis is wanting. Again, next to no serious consideration of potential polarisation.
Much of our Human Right Commission’s research in this area is anecdotal, and while lived experience is important, the Human Rights Commission, and even the Government, carefully curates who it will consult with. When the Free Speech Union approached Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt’s office, we were told he would not be speaking to us as we were not an “interested party”. This despite our steering group having multiple members of religious minority groups and from the LGBT community. You can be the wrong type of minority member for the HRC, or hold the wrong opinions on this matter, at the very least.
If speech does have a cumulative effect, as the Human Rights Commission and Government seem to believe, their messaging that we, as minorities, are all singing from the same song sheet regarding a desire to remove the free speech rights of fellow New Zealanders, could finally prove to be the most irresponsible speech of all.
■ Dane is a spokesperson for the Free Speech Union and a member of the NZ Jewish community.