You know things are getting bad when even hard-core leftists and civil libertarians join with conservatives in opposing draconian and anti-freedom of speech law proposals. I refer to the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 which has recently been released for comment.
It seeks to update, expand and standardise the current laws and make things even more difficult for those concerned about religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech. Of real concern are the addition of two new categories, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the stripping away of various religious exemptions.
As with many such laws already around the country in various states, the result of all this is to in effect declare that a person is guilty until proven innocent. The one complained against will have to prove he is not being discriminatory, and should be exempt from the law. A lengthy discussion by Jenny Stokes of what is involved in this new proposed legislation can be found in the first link below.
All churches and religious groups should be quite concerned about all this. Commentator Pat Byrne also sounds alarm bells here: “If Roxon’s bill becomes law, freedom of religious practice – and of churches and faith-based agencies to employ people of their own religious beliefs – will be granted only by ‘exceptions’ and ‘exemptions’ in the law.
“In selecting candidates for the ministry, churches are told that they can freely choose, but only because they will be allowed to ‘discriminate’ on grounds of sex, age, relationship status, sexual orientation, etc. However, when it comes to faith-based schools and other church agencies, the new law will only make an ‘exception’ for discrimination that consists of conduct that ‘conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion; or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion’.
“The mainstream churches may gain ‘exceptions’ from the law, because their ‘doctrines, tenets or beliefs’ have been refined and codified over centuries or millennia (S33(2)). However, numerous independent Christian churches will find it hard to define their beliefs so clearly. They may well find themselves subject to the full force of this law.”
He continues, “Roxon’s bill chisels away at Australians’ long-cherished right to religious freedom. Curiously, it seems that even political parties may be subject to the new anti-discrimination law. It will be interesting to see what happens should a card-carrying Liberal Party member take a case to the AHRC claiming discrimination because he/she was refused employment on Nicola Roxon’s staff because of his/her political ideas.”
Yes quite so. And an important speech was just delivered by James Spigelman, Chairman of the ABC and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW. He also is greatly concerned about this bill, and how freedoms will be snatched away from us. Excerpts from his speech are well worth sharing here:
“There may now have elapsed sufficient time for us to debate the issue dispassionately, and not on the basis of whether or not you like Andrew Bolt. The focus of that debate was not on the existence of a racial vilification provision, but on the breadth of the conduct to which section 18 C extends, namely, conduct ‘reasonably likely … to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person’.
“The key criticism was directed to the fact that the section made speech which merely ‘offends’ unlawful. A similar, but less powerful objection, can be made to the reference to ‘insult’. The critique did not, generally, extend to the words ‘humiliate or intimidate’.”
He continues, “The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended. I am not aware of any international human rights instrument, or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy, that extends to conduct which is merely offensive. I have not conducted a detailed review of the international position in this respect. However, so far as I have been able to determine, we would be pretty much on our own in declaring conduct which does no more than offend, to be unlawful. In a context where human rights protection draws on a global jurisprudence, this should give us pause when we re-enact s 18C and before we extend such protection to other contexts.”
He concludes with these words: “The new Bill proposes a significant redrawing of the line between permissible and unlawful speech. This is so, notwithstanding the ability to establish that relevant conduct falls within a statutory exception. A freedom that is contingent on proving, after the event, that it was exercised reasonably or on some other exculpatory basis, is a much reduced freedom. Further, as is well known, the chilling effect of the mere possibility of legal processes will prevent speech that could have satisfied an exception.
“When rights conflict, drawing the line too far in favour of one, degrades the other right. Words such as ‘offend’ and ‘insult’, impinge on freedom of speech in a way that words such as ‘humiliate’, ‘denigrate,’ ‘intimidate’, ‘incite hostility’ or ‘hatred’ or ‘contempt’, do not. To go beyond language of the latter character, in my opinion, goes too
“None of Australia’s international treaty obligations require us to protect any person or group from being offended. We are, however, obliged to protect freedom of speech. We should take care not to put ourselves in a position where others could reasonably assert that we are in breach of our international treaty obligations to protect freedom of speech.”
Quite so. This is more nanny state, big government restriction on healthy free speech, and a dangerous step toward more of the flawed concepts of hate speech and hate crimes. Orwell’s Big Brother thrived on such things, but no democracy should even be thinking about moving in this direction.
And given all the mischief such laws have had on Christian groups and churches already, this move will only mean more restrictions of religious freedom, primarily that of Christians to proclaim the gospel and stand for truth in the public arena.
What Chuck Colson once said about the US is certainly applicable here: “In George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, the government Thought Police constantly spies on citizens to make sure they are not thinking rebellious thoughts. Thought crimes are severely punished by Big Brother. 1984 was intended as a warning against totalitarian governments that enslave and control their citizens. Never have we needed this warning more urgently than now, because America’s Thought Police are knocking on your door.”
Or as Orwell said elsewhere, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” Indeed, that seems to be the main reason why such laws are being proposed in the first place.