Following on from the FSU’s media release yesterday, it makes these observations on this government’s plan to add ‘religious belief’ to categories contained in the Human Rights Act. One could imagine this would ban criticism of what extremist groups like ISIS/Daesh preach. What about those who create their own religions/cults/ideologies? It’s again stupidity.

Despite the Government all but dropping its original plan to introduce far-reaching hate speech legislation, Minister Allan has said that they still plan on expanding the current legislative regime restricting our speech rights. The new intention is to extend the Human Rights Act to cover ‘religious belief’.

Minister Allan on Newshub Nation

These provisions make it an offence to use words “likely to excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons” on the grounds of their colour, race, or ethnic or national origins. This law has so far been interpreted as “inciting violence” by the Human Rights Commission, but it is easy to see how such a broad definition of inciting disharmony could be abused.

Adding religion to this provision could potentially criminalise any and all criticism of religion or religious beliefs

As American legal scholar Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr put it, “Every idea is an incitement.” Criticism of any idea may bring it into contempt or ridicule; that’s exactly what a debate is! 

Under these new changes, it could very well become a crime to criticise the treatment of women under Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism, or Christianity’s views on LGBT people, or the state-mandated atheism of many of the communist nations of the 20th Century. By adding religion to the Human Rights Act, it turns these views into a modern-day ‘sacred cow’, placing religion above criticism. The Government only just repealed our antiquated Blasphemous Libel laws in 2019, but Minister Allan’s proposed change is a blasphemy law again by another name.

Amusingly enough, in the wake of Minister Allan’s announcement, I saw a (now deleted) tweet criticising the dropping of the hate speech laws, but concurrently committing what could be a crime under these new proposals.

A tweet saying

National and Act have both announced opposition to these new proposals, and you can trust that we’ll be pushing hard against this watered-down, but nonetheless egregious violation of our free speech rights.

Ultimately, we believe that s61 and 131 of the Human Rights Act should be repealed entirely, and replaced with provisions against the incitement of violence against all groups, not just a few protected categories. No group or individual should be above criticism, and it is imperative that we protect the right to have debate. With extensive hate speech legislation off the table, it is time for the free speech movement to go on the offensive, not only holding back the tide of censorious legislation, but pushing forward to ground free speech as a fundamental civil right in all our laws.

Jonathan sat down with Stephen Franks, Juliet Moses, and Dr. Bryce Edwards to discuss the Minister’s announcement, and why even paired back these hate speech laws are a bad idea. You can listen to that discussion here.

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 for a ‘deep dive.’ The Ministry of Justice has just spent over two years working on this very issue. What will the Law Commission discover that the Minister of Justice hasn’t? What if the Law Commission recommends extending penalties or including more groups? Will the Government walk around the mountain again? 

It’s time better solutions were given a chance, solutions that elevate dialogue, reason, and counter-speech.