Friday, March 14, 2003

Flag-burning and freedom of expression

A man who burned the New Zealand flag at an anti-Howard protest last week has been charged with dishonouring the flag under the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981.

Now, I know that the NZ flag Means Something to some people (usually war veterans and rabidly anti-immigrant nationalist wankers), and that burning one in public upsets them. And I'd argue that that's precisely why we shouldn't have stupid laws banning it. Freedom of expression is about upsetting people - about goring their sacred cows, questioning their most basic assumptions, and burning their idols in public. That's what a "robust debate" in society means.

Regardless of that, flag-burning is against the law here, and this guy could be facing a fine of up to $5000 for doing it. I'd urge him to mount a vigorous defence on the grounds of freedom of expression, in the hope of getting the law struck down for violating the principles of the Bill of Rights Act; I'd urge the judge to discharge without conviction rather than enforce a law which violates such a fundamental principle of human rights; and I'd urge any jury involved to do likewise. I'd also urge our politicians to repeal this atrocity ASAP. No modern liberal democracy should have laws which are frankly a throwback to eighteenth century ideas of lese majeste.

Oh, and while we're looking at this story, this comment takes the cake for disingenuous bullshit:

Wellington area controller Inspector Marty Grenfell said the use of fire in crowded situations was dangerous.

Obviously. That's why you're arresting people for "dishonouring the flag" rather than "playing silly buggers with matches".