Why flag burning counts as freedom of speech

Lawyer Steven Price writes strongly in defence of freedom of speech in the Dominion Post (also on his blog). He was one of the laywers representing Valerie Morse in the Supreme Court when she successfully appealed her conviction for burning a New Zealand flag as a protest at an ANZAC Day dawn ceremony.

He points out that the protest at an ANZAC Day memorial was relevant:

Their banner that day called on the government to pull our troops out of Afghanistan, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. They pointed up the irony that, while we were solemnly gathering to commemorate the war dead, the government was sending more soldiers to die overseas.

He goes on to point out that our society needs people to challenge our beliefs, paraphrasing Cass Sunstein:

The evidence shows we have a strong tendency to conform to prevailing ideas. ... But the good news is that society can be rattled out of narrow mindsets, and sometimes change direction altogether. All it takes is a handful of dissenting voices. They provide the opening for the rest of us to start considering different approaches.

Finally, he sums up the findings of the Supreme Court:

The court unanimously laid down a principle that we can’t punish behaviour as offensive unless it’s disturbing public order. And when protesters are exercising speech rights, we must be extra tolerant of their views and their methods – even if we despise both – before we can call their conduct criminal. That seems right to me. That’s what freedom looks like.

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