Freedom of speech

Queen’s Birthday Honours 2016

One particular honour stood out for me in the Queen’s Birthday Honours:

The Honourable Roman FINKELSTEIN QC… For distinguished service to the judiciary and to the law, to legal education as an academic, to jurisprudence in the fields of commercial and competition law, and to professional organisations.

As Sinclair Davidson notes at the Catallaxy Files:

Ray Finkelstein – the man who tried to introduce media censorship in Australia at the behest of the previous Labor government – has been honoured with the Order of Australia by a Coalition government.

Simply astonishing.

On a brighter note though was the Knighthood awarded to conservative intellectual Roger Scruton in the UK’s Queen’s Birthday Honours. Among many other things, Roger Scruton delivered the keynote address at the IPA’s 2014 Foundations of Western Civilisation Symposium, on liberty and democracy:

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The state has no business policing emotion

Brendan O’Neill in Spiked on how the state has no business policing emotion:

We should bristle and balk as much at the idea of ‘hate speech’ as we do at the idea of thoughtcrime…

… the category of hate speech is an extremely elastic tool for the repression of ideas. It has spread from curtailing ideas of racial superiority to suppressing expressions of religious hatred. Some Scandinavian countries want to outlaw misogynistic speech. On campuses there are clampdowns on transphobic speech. Anyone who says that a person with a penis is a man can now be branded a ‘hate speaker’ and find himself No Platformed. So even saying ‘men are men and women are women’ has been encapsulated in the ideological category of hate speech. Normal, widely held beliefs are casually rebranded ‘hatred’.

… Once you accept that some ideas are beyond the pale, once you cross that rubicon, then ultimately no idea is safe, because every idea can, at some level, be considered as offensive or experienced as hateful.

… Hatred is an emotion. It might not be the best emotion, but it’s an emotion nonetheless. And when we allow figures of authority to control emotion, to fine people for their emotions, to imprison people for their emotions, then we enter the realm of tyranny. It completes the state’s control of the individual. It expands state power from the public sphere of discussion into the psychic sphere of thought and feeling. It invites policing not only of political sentiment but of deep feeling. It is a profound assault on the freedom of the individual.It’s time to get serious about freedom of speech. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of ideas. It is unacceptable to repress the expression of hatred. ‘Hate speech is not free speech!’, people say. But it is. By its very definition, free speech must include hate speech. Speech must always be free, for two reasons: everyone must be free to express what they feel, and everyone else must have the right to decide for themselves whether those expressions are good or bad. When the EU, social-media corporations and others seek to make that decision for us, and squash ideas they think we will find shocking, they reduce us to the level of children. That is censorship’s greatest crime: it infantilises us. Let us now reassert our adulthood, our autonomy, and tell them: ‘Do not presume to censor anything on our behalf. We can think for ourselves.’

Read the whole article here.

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Even The Economist is acknowledging the global free speech problem

economist-front-page-smThis week’s Economist has an important expose on threats to free speech across the world.

The edition explores multiple dimensions of attacks on free speech: repression by governments, non-state actors enforcing censorship by assassination, the colliding of the American mind on campus, and the idea that certain people and groups have a right to not be offended.

Continue Reading →

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ACT exclusions zones target silent prayers

The Canberra Times reports the ACT’s restrictive “exclusion zones” passed last year are being zealously enforced:

Police have fined a pro-life supporter for the second time for breaching the protest-free zone around Canberra’s abortion clinic in Civic.

… the ACT government announced it had expanded the exclusion zone, to include Rudd Street, West Row, the alleyway of Odgers Lane, and surrounding roads, footpaths, gutters, outdoor areas, and underneath a “building’s facade”…

[Kerry Mellor] said that when he and other pro-life supporters went to the Moore Street clinic at 8am, there were already six police officers there.

The rest of his group dispersed, he said, but he remained in place outside PJ O’Reilly pub and was again fined $750.

“The moment that I produced my rosary and made a sign of the cross, they were on to me right away,” he said.

Mr Mellor says that he will challenge the laws, arguing that merely praying does not amount to prohibited behaviour under the Health Act 1993.

However, the courts may be of limited assistance. The laws –  put forward by Greens minister Shane Rattenbury – are a blatant attack on free speech. Section 85(c) of the Act prohibit “a protest, by any means” within an excluded zone determined by the minister.

Note: Professor Neil Foster of the University of Tasmania examines the constitutionality of exclusion zone laws at his blog, and is worth reading.

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“Freedom of speech is a good in and of itself. It has intrinsic value”

flemming-rose-friedman-prize

Flemming Rose

From Danish journalist Flemming Rose’s remarks upon receiving the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty last week ($):

We easily get into trouble if our defense of free speech is premised on whether it contributes to truth-seeking or not, or whether it serves democracy or not, whether it is blasphemous or not, whether it offends or not, whether it undermines the war effort or not or, whether it is a threat to the common good or not—all these arguments are used every day to silence people all around the world.

They are all instrumental or utilitarian arguments. They claim that we need free speech to achieve something else that is more important than free speech. If our speech contradicts these goals of higher value, democracy, theocracy, communism, dignity understood as the right not to be offended, the historical truth, religious sensibilities, the need to eradicate hate and so on and so forth—then it is perfectly OK to criminalize that kind of speech.

This is the fundamental nature of the “I am in favor of free speech, but” position.

Thus we need a non-instrumental or non-utilitarian argument for free speech. Freedom of speech is a good in and of itself. It has intrinsic value.

Viewing free speech as an individual right rather than a mechanism to achieve a goal will lead to the conclusion that there are too many restraints on this liberty, while the “I am in favor of free speech, but” point of view always will be able to justify further limitations on speech.

The argument from autonomy means that human beings are morally self-governing individuals that are able to make up their mind about the speech of other people and decide how to respond. No politician or public opinion should have the power through criminalization and bans to hide opinions and speech from us, implying that we are not able to handle it in a reasonable and responsible way. It takes away our dignity because it is based on the assumption that we cannot be trusted to listen to certain kinds of speech. As Lincoln assumed in another context, free men should not be free to choose unfreedom for others. This is where the arguments from autonomy and dignity are grounded and where they come together in a sustainable and enduring defense for free speech.

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So much for the “Freedom Commissioner”

PIAC_logo

Less than three years after the Coalition government appointed Tim Wilson as the “Freedom Commissioner“, Attorney-General George Brandis has now appointed someone from an organisation which has repeatedly been on the wrong side of debates on freedoms, and public policy more generally.

This is just some of what the Public Interest Advocacy Centre – led by the new Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow – has said in recent years:

Freedom of speech:

PIAC has welcomed the Federal Government’s decision not to proceed with proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act…

‘Freedom of speech is a crucial human right but so too is the right not to be vilified on the basis of your race or ethnicity. Serious race-based insult, offence and humiliation can be deeply wounding and threatens important aspects of Australia’s liberal democracy,’ said Edward Santow, PIAC’s CEO.

Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders:

PIAC generally supports the proposal for a statement of values or recognition, which appropriately recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution… PIAC submits that constitutional protection is imperative to protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians against racial discrimination.

Freedom of religion:

We oppose, in particular, the granting of blanket exemptions to churches and religious organisations from anti-discrimination laws.

Suing Coles for its “discriminatory” website:

“Ms Mesnage relies on a screen-reader to use the internet. Like many people who are blind or have a vision impairment, she has had ongoing problems using the Coles website to do her shopping since 2008,” PIAC CEO, Edward Santow said.

Pro Bono Australia News reported in October 2014 that after negotiations with Coles failed to bring about a solution, Mesnage brought legal proceedings against the supermarket chain under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.

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Western values under attack? Not just a European problem

Western values are much in the news at the moment, notable in the newly enhanced relationship between Europe and Turkey. Europe it appears is willing to make significant concessions towards Turkey in a bid to resolve their refugee crisis, particularly as uncontrolled migration has subjected Europeans to increasing fears over security, the unproven ability to integrate newcomers and the financial implications of housing and welfare provisions for upwards of one million people in Germany alone.

The decision to co-opt Turkey as the prime mover in halting people smuggler routes into Greece has always been a curious one, especially as it appears to handover border security for Europeans to a nation with fundamentally different understandings of freedom and notably a core freedom: freedom of speech.

Underlying the new European-Turkey partnership there are deep questions for all western societies. Is this another case of the western world with an obsessive desire to remain open and tolerant having negotiated away the very values which ensure that this is possible? Recent experience with Turkey suggests that Europeans not only made financial concessions, but more importantly “values” concessions including the freedom of expression.

Continue Reading →

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96 people who think section 18C should be reformed

The IPA has long argued that section 18C is a restriction on freedom of speech, and that it should be repealed. And we’re not alone – we’ve compiled a list of 96 prominent individuals and organisations who have publicly argued that section 18C goes too far.

The list even includes many figures on the left that believe section 18C catches conduct that should not be subject to legal sanction, including The Age, David Marr and Jonathan Holmes.

Read the full list for yourself here.

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So-called “Science Guy” open to jail-time for sceptics of a scientific theory

A scene from Explorer: Bill Nye's Global Meltdown. (Photo Credit: NG Studios)

Popular U.S. television personality Bill Nye is the latest public official to show contempt for free speech and intellectual inquiry.

Known for the PBS show he hosted in the 1990s, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye is a prominent advocate for action on climate change. And when Climate Depot’s Marc Morano recently asked him what he thought of Robert Kennedy Jr.’s comments that some climate sceptics should be prosecuted as war criminals, Nye seemed supportive. The Washington Times reports:

“We’ll see what happens… In these cases, for me, as a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen… So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this.”

The irony of quashing dissent in the scientific community was apparently lost on Nye, who added “That there is a chilling effect on scientists who are in extreme doubt about climate change, I think that is good.”

The mere fact such a position could be seriously contemplated by a public intellectual, let alone a member of the scientific community — which holds scepticism as a central plank of the scientific method — is a sad reflection on society.

But this won’t come as a surprise to readers of FreedomWatch. Whether through trigger warning and microagression policies in the U.S., the scourge of “no-platforming” in the U.K., free speech is under a sustained attack across the Western world.

Last year alone Australia witnessed Bjørn Lomborg’s acceptance, and subsequent expulsion, from a position at the University of Western Australia — not for being a climate sceptic, but for being insufficiently supportive of the anti-fossil fuel agenda promulgated by the Greens.

Then there is the atrocious behaviour of an academic at Queensland University of Technology, Cindy Prior, who has taken a group of students to court under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The students supposed crime was a few innocuous Facebook posts about being kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. These statements included:

“Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT [is] stopping segregation with segregation” [and] “My Student and Amenity fees are going to furbish rooms in the university where inequality reigns supreme? I believe if we have to pay to support these sorts of places, there should at least be more created for general purpose use, but again, how do these sorts of facilities support interaction­ and community within QUT? All this does is encourage separation and inequality.”

I still have enough faith in the Australian legal system to hope this case will be thrown out. But it is still likely to leave these young students with excessive legal bills of more than $200,000.

It’s at this point that I’m reminded of the words of the great NSW upper house MP, Peter Phelps:

“We should not be so surprised that the contemporary science debate has become so debased. At the heart of many scientists — but not all scientists — lies the heart of a totalitarian planner.”

Maybe Phelps’ statement could be extended to other areas of academia, as well.

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