Friday, August 06, 2004

I feel another submission coming on...

Parliament's Government administration committee is holding an inquiry into whether we need further legislation against hate speech. I don't think we do. We already have laws against incitement, and strong laws against discrimination, and those are enough.

The same arguments expressed in my post on holocaust-denier David Irving apply here. Restricting hate-speech lends credibility to the haters, by allowing them to claim that we are afraid of them, and allowing them to cast themselves as the aggrieved and oppressed party. It deprives us of the ability to challenge and defeat their views, and instead allows them to fester in the shadows. The answer to undesirable speech is more speech, not less. Those who dislike speech or publications vilifying certain groups should speak out in their defence, not use the law to punish unwelcome opinions.

Restrictions are simply unjustifiable on liberal grounds. According to Mill's law,

the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection

An opinion has to cause actual, concrete harm in order to be suppressed. Simply making people feel bad does not meet this standard. Incitement to immediate violence can be banned, as can harassment, and hate speech is good evidence when proving discrimination. But villifying a group, saying that they are evil, ungodly, unnatural or conspiring to take over the world is not sufficient. It is offensive, but giving offence is not harm. It inspires hatred, but there is no right not to be hated.

A free and democratic society is one that does not tell its citizens what opinions they are allowed to hold. If the government is concerned about hate speech, then government ministers should speak out against it. But they should not ban people simply from expressing an opinion, no matter how vile and unjustified.