Wednesday, July 25, 2018

If this is "victory", what would defeat look like?

When the Free Speech Coalition was formed, they promised to stand up for freedom of expression (even that of Nazis). Now, they're dropping their urgent case against Auckland Council:

The Free Speech Coalition has withdrawn its request for urgent orders and a hearing on Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's decision to ban two right-wing Canadians from council venues, it says.

The so-called Free Speech Coalition crowd-funded tens of thousands of dollars to launch the court action, which was in response to Canadians Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux being prevented from using the Bruce Mason Centre for an upcoming speaking event.

In a press release, the coalition said it was withdrawing the action because it had achieved "victory".

The coalition said its main purpose for next Monday's hearing had gone because the council had conceded that mayor Phil Goff did not make the decision and that it was in fact made by Regional Facilities Auckland.

Except that that's not actually "victory". "Victory" would be a ruling from the court saying that the Council's decision was unlawful and that it can not use "health and safety" and a heckler's veto as a pretext to discriminate on political grounds in its venue decisions. Instead, they didn't even try arguing that, because in fact they support discrimination, at least when it comes to gay people. But then, its difficult to escape the impression that for many of them this was never about free speech at all, but about finding some way to attack their ideological enemy, Phil Goff. And now they can't sue him, they've simply lost interest. As for the actual principle at stake, well, that's been pushed back into the never-never, and they'll probably lose interest in that too. After all, its not as if the likes of Stephen Franks, Don Brash, David Farrar and Jordan Williams have ever been consistent supporters of freedom of expression...

I don't like Nazis, but tolerating them is the cost of a free and democratic society, the cost of the right of all of us to speak out and try and change things. And that right has been compromised. If you're happy with that, you might want to think about the precedent it sets: that a threat by people to protest against an event justifies its suppression. To point out the obvious, Nazis can also protest, and you are supporting their right to shut down progressive speech. And that doesn't seem like either a liberal or progressive position to hold.