Opposing the Human Rights (Incitement on Ground of Religious Belief) Amendment Bill

The first reading of the Bill to add religious belief to New Zealand’s hate speech laws in the Human Rights Act happens today.

The government has ignored all the work and consultation done by many people to improve the law and make it more workable. It has rejected the plans to both clarify and raise the bar that would trigger the Act. The omission of sexuality and disability is notable. (See Marc Daalder’s article and backgrounder for more context.)

Most significantly, it has decided to hand-wave aside all the concerns that religion, as a human created and human chosen activity, is different from the other protected grounds such as race, ethnicity, and national origin that are inherent and can’t be changed (although some are intertwined, of course).

As we said in our paper, we are not opposed to improving New Zealand’s hate speech laws and do not see them as inherently incompatible with freedom of expression in a democratic society. We also saw a place for protecting religious belief and noted the problems the world has with anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish hate speech.

But insulting language with “intent to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule” is not the right bar for hate speech. This is especially true for religions which can choose to act badly in a way that a race or ethnicity simply cannot.

The original proposal recommended raising the bar to “threatening, abusive or insulting” communications made with an intent to “stir up, maintain or normalise hatred”. We also recommended adding explicit protection for the right to criticise religion.

Without those improvements, we oppose the Human Rights (Incitement on Ground of Religious Belief) Amendment Bill.