The following was submitted two years ago as part of the Department of Justice’s consultation process on the implementation of hate speech laws and is syndicated with the permission of the author.
I would like to make a submission to the consultation on the introduction of legislation on hate speech. I have read the document “Review of the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989”.
In my view the 1989 Act is a sufficient safeguard against one person’s free speech impeding on another person’s rights– indeed, I believe it already goes too far.
Of course there is no absolute right to free speech. Few people would claim that there is such a thing. But the restrictions on free speech must be severely limited themselves, and should especially not be open to abuse by the powerful, or by any faction.
The term “hate” (which your document specifies is used in its ordinary sense in the 1989 Act) is vague enough to allow virtually any application. It is all too easy for disagreement to be branded as “hate”, especially as a tactic to silence one side of a debate. And we see this happening time and time again.
The same problem would apply to any alternative term, such as those the document suggests– hostility and prejudice.
Your document also complains that there have been too few prosecutions under the 1989 Act. This is a rather chilling attitude to take. Is the government actually looking for an excuse to suppress free speech, and seeking a legal instrument to use in doing so? Surely it is a good thing that few individuals have been found guilty of incitement to hatred?
Let us turn to the basic premise that “hate” should be open to prosecution.
One of the founders of this Republic, Patrick Pearse, very famously said: ” I hold it a Christian thing, as O’Donovan Rossa held it, to hate evil, to hate untruth, to hate oppression, and, hating them, to strive to overthrow them.”
The Act prohibits incitement to hatred against a group on the grounds of race, colour, nationality, religion, ethnic or national origins, membership of the travelling community or sexual orientation. Is it really the case that no reasonable, fair, responsible criticism might be made against perceived tendencies amidst such groups?
Are not white people routinely held up for criticism in the media, for instance? Is the same not true of Catholics, and of men? I personally think such criticism goes too far, and is indeed “likely to stir up hatred”. All the same, I believe the authors of such criticism should have an absolute right to express it.
Let’s take some examples.
I am a conservative Catholic male. I can easily imagine a militant feminist atheist launching a tirade against Catholics as such, and against men as such. Indeed, they are published daily. Should this be prohibited? Absolutely not.
It is entirely reasonable and legitimate to address criticism (or even hostility) towards a group, even when it is addressed to ” fundamental aspects of a person’s identity which cannot or should not be changed or concealed”.
To take my own example again. I am a Catholic, and my religion comes under the heading of categories protected by the current Incitement to Hatred Act. Your document suggests my religion is an aspect of my identity which “cannot or should not be changed”.
I agree, given my own beliefs, that my religion should not be changed. However, is is really unreasonable for an anti-religious atheist to disagree with this? Shouldn’t such an atheist have a right to try to change my religion, even if it involves expressing a hateful attitude to that religion? Of course he should.
Similarly, shouldn’t a Muslim or a Jehovah’s Witness or an Evengelical Christian have the same right: to seek to change my religion, even if in doing so he express a hatred of the Catholic Church? Of course he should. An Evengelical Christian who believes the Catholic Church is leading innumerable souls to Hell is, by his own lights, demonstrating love and concern to Catholics in denouncing it.
The examples I have taken deliberately run against the grain of most discourse on “hate speech”. For everybody knows that this legislation will be used to target particular viewpoints and groups: namely, conservative Christians, social conservatives, nationalists critical of mass immigration, critics of Islam, and so forth. There is such a wide scope for interpretation of the term “hate” that it makes such abuse inevitable, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that this is the very purpose.
There should be no legislation against “hate speech” or “hate crime”. Laws against explicit incitement to violence, and against violence itself, should be entirely sufficient in themselves
If a man calls for another man’s face to be punched, and a third man acts on the suggestion, the situation can be judged without any reference to colour, nationality, religion, race, sexuality or membership of the travelling community.
If a man calls for the faces of a whole group to be punched, the same should apply. Should it matter whether that group consists of Christians, Greenlanders, red-heads, or disco dancers?
Any expression of animosity short of explicit incitement violence should not be legislated against at all, and should fall within the category of free speech.
I oppose this legislation with all my heart. I think it would be the most oppressive legislation in the history of the State. If such legislation is introduced, I hope that it is rendered unworkable by popular opposition.