NZ Skeptics submission on the Ministry of Justice Proposals against incitement of hatred and discrimination
The NZ Skeptics
We are a New Zealand/Aoteaoroa charity dedicated to education and the promotion of evidence based practices, both in government policy and elsewhere in New Zealand public life. We believe that all government policy decisions should be informed by the best available evidence from relevant groups. We believe that legislation should be based on reality and evidence, rather than on unproven ideas.
Our concern is regarding Proposal five, with the addition of incitement to discriminate to the Human Rights Act.
We accept that inciting others to hate a group of people for their religious belief can be (and has been) a problem in this country, and that it makes sense to have some level of legislation to protect people from this behaviour.
Our approach is generally to criticise ideas and behaviours rather than people, and our approach is to never intentionally incite hatred of a class of people, even those we disagree with. We tend to single out people who we think are out to scam people and knowingly and egregiously promote misinformation.
We think, however, that even using insults to incite others to hate a religious belief, or to discriminate against people who hold a religious belief, should not necessarily rise to the level of being a crime.
It is important for beliefs to be open to criticism – including through the use of ridicule and insults. Beliefs are different from innate properties of a person or group of people, such as their sexuality, gender, race or national origin. A belief is not an intrinsic attribute of a person, but rather the act of believing is a personal choice. Because of this, there should be latitude for robust criticism of religious beliefs, and of those who choose to follow those beliefs – even if that criticism could be construed as being insulting or abusive, and perceived as inciting others to discriminate or hate.
It is easy to think of examples of religious groups in this country who regularly speak out against the rights of those they consider “immoral”, such as gay and lesbian couples, or those who choose to have an abortion. We do not think that it should be illegal for people to be able to use insults as a way to criticise these groups for example, even if these insults are intended to incite others to discriminate against them. We think there are occasions where groups should be discriminated against, in order to lessen their ability to spread dangerous misinformation. Denying hateful religious groups a platform from which they can speak messages of hate could be argued to be discrimination, but we think that the ability to use activism in this way is legitimate and should remain legal. We would not want to find ourselves being threatened with a lawsuit if we asked our members to boycott a hateful religious group, and used insulting language in order to make our request.
Our worry, also, is that extreme religious groups with whom we disagree, such as those who criticise gay and lesbian couples, might be afforded a different level of shielding from prosecution simply because of their perceived traditional religious roots.
We think that it is important for any legislation around religion and hate speech to differentiate between religious believers and religious beliefs. We would like to see allowance made in legislation for speech that may be considered as inciting discrimination or hatred, when that speech is aimed not at people but at their beliefs. This is especially important when these beliefs are not only wrong but also dangerous or hurtful, such as religious shunning, gay conversion therapy or taking money from the poor. Our ability to criticise these erroneous, damaging beliefs should not be curtailed.
We think that any protections given to religious groups should also be afforded to agnostics, atheists and other non-believers. Especially when it comes to ethnic groups with high levels of belief, non-believing members of those ethnic groups can find themselves targeted by hate speech for their choice to not believe. We see no reason that these people should not be protected by hate speech laws in the same way that religious people will be under the new proposals.