A media report that Police are investigating an anti-Islam pamphlet reflects a disturbing trend towards criminalising offensive speech, according to ACT Leader David Seymour.
“Hateful speech is of course distasteful, but what is even worse is the state using its extraordinary powers to criminalise offensive opinions.
“The idea that all Muslims are terrorists is patently absurd. If the antidote to speech is more speech, then these pamphlets are deserving of ridicule. We can’t send people to jail for having silly ideas, though, or the Police would have to clear half of Parliament.
“Every democracy has its share of kooks spouting nutty propaganda. Without realising it, they do us all a service by reminding us that free expression is in good health.
“A few weeks ago, in response to a One Law for All pamphlet, Justice Minister Andrew Little claimed the Government needed the power to shut down speech that was foolish.
“But a government agency that can make arbitrary judgements of what is and isn’t a reasonable opinion for people to express is counter to the Bill of Rights Act, which says: ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.’
“Hate speech is deeply subjective. What is fair criticism and what is hate speech? It can only depend on opinion. Usually opinions are met by other opinions, but under hate speech laws they are met by the power of the state.
“Legal tests as subjective as causing offence, or making insulting statements, as contained in our current laws, should never be used.
“The right to freedom of expression needs to be strengthened, not weakened, in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack. We need to expunge the law books of restrictions on freedom of expression and make it clear that it is a critical value for New Zealand.”