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The reasonable limits of free speech

In recent days, there has been much media discussion about the so-called 'Free Speech Coalition' and their impending legal action against the Auckland City Council for barring far-right activists Laura Southern and Stefan Molyneux from using their venues.

I believe, as a sometime opinion columnist (having had material published on the Newsroom website for example) in the right to exercise free speech - provided that it doesn't infringe the reasonable limits on such speech which exist in a democratic society like our own.

I emphasise the word reasonable as there are permissible limits such as, for example, in the form of our defamation laws and anti-race hate speech laws (as contained in the Human Rights Act 1993).

And I believe that the Auckland City Council, led by Mayor Phil Goff, has every right to deny these proponents of hate speech (for that is what they are) the use of Council facilities to propagate their vicious blend of Islamophobia, racism and sexism. As Goff has stated he doesn't want the City's reputation as a growing multicultural hub to be tarnished by their publicly being allowed to speak on Council property.

Furthermore, I would ask as to whether any members of the Coalition would support bans on fundamentalist Islamic preachers (or those, indeed, of any religion) from entering New Zealand to speak? I would say that they would and I would reasonably agree with them that extremist religious preachers who promote killing, death, misogyny and hatred should be equally excluded in the same way that Southern and Molyneux are. After all, preaching such hatred is anathema to the vast majority of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and indeed the adherents of all the world's main religions. 

Besides, there has been plenty of commentary in the past day or so as well about the hypocrisy of some key Coalition members, such as Don Brash, in seeking to support free speech for far-right extremists while denying the same to people who use Maori to simply greet and acknowledge (given that he complained about the use of Te Reo on RNZ National earlier this year).

And also I note that some well-known libertarians (such as Lindsay Perigo) are part of this Coalition. Put simply, libertarians (as part of their belief in absolute property rights) believe in the right of people to absolutely control what is done on their own property. I ask whether they believe that this same right extends to the Auckland City Council as well? I put that challenge out there.

Personally, I have an interest in maintaining a balance between the need for tolerance and the right to free speech as a disabled person. I say this because we have witnessed throughout history the gross misuse of free speech to target minority groups as was seen in Nazi Germany where disabled people (amongst other groups including Jews and Gypsies) were first targeted by vicious propaganda campaigns which then led to the mass exterminations of World War II. In the current day, there has been a vicious media campaign targeted against disabled people who are welfare recipients in the United Kingdom by the obnoxious right-wing tabloid media there. This has led to a sharp increase in the number of reported hate crimes against disabled people in that country. Besides, lest we forget the mass media campaigns of hate that accompanied the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and nor that which accompanied the civil wars in the Former Yugoslavia of the same era.

Essentially, the need to maintain tolerance is the key reason why we have reasonable limits on free speech within our society. And tolerance is essential to the operation of a good, healthy, peaceful, stable democracy. Nazi Germany, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda are key examples of where free speech has been misused by murderous regimes to demonise entire minority populations.

Therefore, in the name of keeping our freedom, we have to sacrifice a comparatively small amount of this in order to maintain tolerance, equality, dignity and respect for all the people who live in our society.

And that is a small price worth paying to me.