Australia and the UK are perhaps the free western countries with the clearest examples of governmental shut-down based on what is being called “hate speech”. In very simple terms the illegalization of speech that may generate palpable social separation and conflict seems straight-forward enough, but with an ever-expanding definition of “hate speech,” the picture begins to look far more nefarious.
Take for example the KKK, a racist group that seeks to create legal racial segregation and claims black people are genetically inferior to white people. Most people would agree that these ideologies are loathsome and inappropriate, which makes the idea of legal action against them for hate speech more palatable. The larger issue is that the rights of the KKK to speak freely, in a sense, defends everyone’s right to speak freely. In other words, freedom of speech an all-or-nothing subject. Either citizens are free to express their opinions without the threat of imprisonment or they aren’t.
The move to ban hate speech and make it a punishable offence sets a dangerous precedent where the government gets to decide what speech is appropriate. The claim can be made that this is simply to assure the integrity of society and protect minority communities, but this same power can be expanded to attack the political opposition and stifle the voices of change.
Take for example a video released this author found to be in terribly bad taste. A group of Australians filmed themselves yelling in Arabic using traditionally Muslim clothing and beheading a fake human figure. Their criticism of Islam seemed to be simpleminded and inappropriate, but the legislative action taken against those men was not only inappropriate, it was tyrannical. They were charged with inciting serious contempt for Muslims and fined $2,000 AUD. This is to say, yes, the video was not appropriate, but the government should not step in to charge a group of people based on their beliefs, however backwards some people may perceive them to be.
Australia does not give its citizens freedom of speech as an inalienable right. But let us be clear that this is a right that every human being in the world should have. The rights of some people to say something egregious defends the right of the people to strongly condemn them. #FreeOurSpeechOz
Deputy Editor, The Unshackled
Host of the Front and Center Podcast