Twenty-seven high-profile New Zealanders, including unilikely allies such as Don Brash and Dame Tariana Turia, have penned an open letter warning that freedom of speech is under threat at the country’s universities.
The campaign which was the brainchild of Auckland University of Technology history professor Paul Moon, rejects “the forceful silencing of dissenting or unpopular views” on tertiary campuses.
It also insists debate must not be suppressed because the ideas put forth “are thought by some or even by most people to be offensive, immoral, or wrong-headed”.
The move comes after an Auckland University group called the European Students Association was closed down after threats to its members amid accusations of racism. Its leaders had denied the club was racist.
The letter also follows Human Rights Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy’s February call for a review of online hate speech, and Police Commissioner Mike Bush suggesting an examination of the pros and cons of specific crime.
The open letter has been signed by academics, business leaders, community representatives and controversial commentators including Sir Bob Jones, former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Maori educationist Sir Toby Curtis, poet Albert Wendt and former MP Luamanuvao Winnie Laban.
Moon said freedom of speech was the foundation of a modern diverse and democratic society. It protected religious freedom and individual expression.
“Kneejerk calls from police and the Human Right Commission to introduce hate-speech laws after recent attacks on ethnic communities will have the unintended consequence of suppressing free speech. Education, open debate and understanding will change racist and intolerant views – not censorship,” he said.
Freedom of speech was intimately connected with freedom of thought. “There is no inalienable right not to be offended. It is dangerous and wrong to silence someone because you take offence or don’t like what they say. Of course, there are limits; that is why inciting hatred or violence is already a crime.”
The current law was working well, he added. [Read more…]