A Christian response to suggested “Hate Speech” law changes, and some proposed re-wording

A Christian response to suggested “Hate Speech” law changes, and some proposed re-wording

A Christian response to suggested “Hate Speech” law changes, and some proposed re-wording

by Dr Stuart Lange, on behalf of the New Zealand Christian Network

Some principles we begin from…

Nobody comes to any issue without some preconceptions, and it can be helpful to state where we are coming from. So, as people of Christian faith…

  • We are deeply committed to God, to love for all, to God’s truth revealed in Christ and the scriptures, to the intrinsic God-given equality of all people, and to justice, righteousness, grace, mercy, and peace.
  • We absolutely reject all racism.
  • We deplore all abusive language, name-calling, hatefulness, and violence – by anyone, and to anyone.
  • We believe that, ideally, all people should relate to one another with gentleness and respect, even when they strongly disagree. Secular people should respect religious people, and vice versa. People of faith should relate respectfully to people of other faiths.
  • We believe that, if we are to remain a free society, our freedoms of religious belief (or unbelief) and of expression must be carefully and unequivocally protected.
  • We believe that a wide diversity of viewpoints and freedom to debate important issues is extremely important, even though it is at the cost of most people sometimes being exposed to views we find objectionable or offensive.

We believe that the State should avoid all attempts to control the thoughts and speech of its citizens, except where the beliefs and opinions of people are unquestionably inciting extreme hatefulness and violence.

What is behind the proposed “hate speech” laws, and why do they matter?

The Government consultation document has presented the proposed “Hate Speech” law changes as a revision of existing legislation to help restrain extreme racism, and as extending protections against “hate speech” to “groups” defined by sex, sexuality, religion, and disability, and thus to build a “greater social cohesion”. But many people see what is proposed as a dangerous limitation of public debate and freedom of expression, in which constant pressure from some groups could lead to a growing censorship of public debate.

A key question is around the precise scope and wording of the proposed changes, particularly in relation to exactly what is meant by the words “hate” and “hatred”. For different people, and in different contexts, these words carry a range of meanings and implications.

In existing legislation it is already a civil offence (see Section 161 (c) of the Human Rights Act 1993) to use “words which are threatening, abusive, or insulting, being matter or words likely to excite hostility or ill-will against, or bring into contempt or ridicule, any such group of persons in New Zealand on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins of that group of persons”. This prohibition on incitement only applies to racism. We agree that for the sake of public safety this existing law is appropriate, to help restrain those ranters who spew forth appalling racist rhetoric, stirring up disharmony and violence. We also fully agree that the law should be extended to electronic communication.

Because of the significant risk of the proposed law changes increasingly suppressing freedom of expression, however, we are uneasy about the list of groups covered by incitement provisions being extended from just race and nationality to also include groups based on religion, disability, sexuality and gender. We could live with that, though, if (1) the threshold of criminality remains extremely high and (2) the nature and limits of “hate speech” are clearly defined.

The key problem with what is proposed

We agree that it should be criminal to stir up extreme animosity and/or incite violence towards any group in society, on the basis of race, and possibly also on the basis of religion, disability, sex and gender.

But the core problem with the wording proposed in the consultation document is that it removes the definitions of incitement that are in the Human Rights Act (see above) and instead substitutes the very elastic term “hatred”  with no adequate definitions.

We believe the word “hatred” is too broad and subjective, and – in the absence of very clear definition – is worryingly vulnerable to freedom-stifling misapplications.

In our societal context of increasingly clamorous identity politics, the word “hatred” is highly loaded. Why not stick with incitement to “hostility”, or change it to “extreme hostility”? Across the western world, the introduction of “hate speech” laws is primarily driven by the desire to restrict the expression of views which disagree with LGBT ideologies. Is that what the Government primarily has in view here?

Our concern grows when we read that it would not only be a crime to incite “hatred”, but also to “maintain or normalise hatred”. This too (especially the “and normalise” phrase) is capable of many interpretations and misapplications, and we believe this proposed wording should be dropped.

Over time, we fear, the wording of the proposed law changes would make it all too easy for various secular, religious, and sexuality activists to hunt down any expression of viewpoint that does not support their own views, or which they find offensive, and to claim that it is “hateful” to their group and therefore unlawful. The police and law courts may end up very busy.

All this poses some significant risks for the freedom of our society, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights:

“13 Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference.

“14 Freedom of expression: Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.”

The only way to avoid oppressive outcomes with the proposed law change is for there to be included some extremely clear explanations of what inciting “hatred” does and does not mean.

Some sample questions…

  • Under the proposed law changes, could anyone be prosecuted for denying a core belief or doctrine of any religion, and thus potentially causing offence?
  • Could it become criminal for anyone to say that they do not believe in sex transitioning for children and adolescents?
  • Could it become criminal for anyone to say that they do not believe it is fair for “trans” people born as males to compete in women’s sport?
  • Could it become criminal for someone to say that they do not personally believe that same-sex relationships or same-sex marriages are intended by God? (This is not “hatred”, but just a matter of religious belief and expression).
  • Could anyone be prosecuted for reading out or referring to – in public, or even in a religious gathering – any passage or verse in the Bible, Qur’an, or any other sacred religious writing that asserts a doctrinal belief about Allah, Jesus, or salvation, or against unbelief, or against any behaviour, and thus will likely offend someone somewhere.

If the answer to any of those five questions is “yes, or maybe”, then for the sake of everyone’s freedoms the proposed law changes must be worded so as to avoid that.

If the answer is, “no” (or as it says in the consultation document, “only extreme hate speech is criminalised, and that there must be an intention to cause others to develop and strengthen hatred towards a group”), then we need to see that protection clearly reflected in the actual wording of the proposed law changes.  

If the answer is, “we don’t know, and we won’t say, but over time we will see how the police and the courts interpret this law in relation to society’s changing thinking”, then we can rightly be very concerned, and may want to ponder what sort of oppressive, thought-controlling Orwellian society our children and mokopuna may inherit.

In our view, the only way for society to protect itself against unjust and tyrannical outcomes through its proposed “hate speech” laws is to state as precisely as possible exactly what “hate speech” is, and exactly what it isn’t.

“In the context of this law, “inciting hatred” means to incite extreme hostility, to deliberately and maliciously vilify with the clear intention of stirring up loathing, hostility, contempt, or violence towards a group; it does not mean to express disagreement, criticism or caution in relation to any of the views of a group, or simply to express beliefs and views which members of any group may consider objectionable or even offensive.”

We believe the Government’s forthcoming Bill must clearly provide some such explicit clarification and balance, and should drop the “maintain and normalise hatred” line. If it does so, these law changes may yet possibly be safe, and may prove acceptable to most people. Nevertheless, whatever our religion (or our lack of it), all New Zealanders need to remain highly vigilant in protecting critically important human freedoms of belief and expression.

Christians and the COVID vaccine

Christians and the COVID vaccine

New Zealand is currently rolling out its COVID vaccine to frontline workers and medical personnel. This means that the general population will soon be in line to receive the vaccine en masse.

At the same time, much anti-vaccination material is swirling around in society. In my research, I’ve seen that Christians – along with everyone else in society – have a range of thoughts about whether they will take the vaccine. Their thinking falls into four broad categories.

There are those who don’t like any sort of vaccine, believing them to be at best ineffective, and at worse dangerous.

There are those who feel that this vaccine is an overreach of the government, a violation of individual rights. (Some might also worry that the vaccine is possibly linked with the “mark of the beast”).

Then you have a third group, who like many of their secular counterparts, have concerns about taking a vaccine that was produced so quickly, without the normal lengthy trials. “Are we sure this vaccine is safe, how can we know what the long-term side effects might be?”

Finally, there are those, and this is no doubt the largest group, who are confident that despite the compressed time-frames in formulating and testing the anti-Covid vaccines, and the possible risks, it is still highly likely to be safe for most people, and that out of love of self and neighbour one should in due course receive the vaccination.

Christians do need to respect the rights of that minority of people who decide not to take the vaccine, but we are not obliged to agree with their thinking. However, it does seem the best way for this and other societies to defeat this virus is to vaccinate as much as possible of the population. If you want to see more information in support of this approach, see the links below.

The DNA of an evangelical

A worldwide fellowship of the Gospel

Around the world, in countless cultures, there are approximately 2.4 billion people who identify as Christian. Many of those are “evangelical” in faith, i.e. they are biblical, Gospel-hearted believers. The World Evangelical Alliance, the global fellowship of Gospel-minded Christians that was first established in 1846, and now has 134 (independent) national alliances in its membership, includes the New Zealand Christian Network.

On 28 February 2021, the WEA officially handed over leadership roles. Dr Thomas Schirrmacher, of Germany, began his tenure as the Secretary General of the WEA. Thomas visited New Zealand in 2019 and took a shine to NZCN’s Te Rongopai DVD.

In his inaugural speech, he talks about the DNA of being evangelical.

Rev Dr Brian Winslade, new Deputy Secretary of the WEA

Introducing Rev Dr Brian Winslade

A worldwide fellowship of the Gospel

Around the world, in countless cultures, there are approximately 2.4 billion people who identify as Christian. Many of those are “evangelical” in faith, i.e. they are biblical, Gospel-hearted believers. The World Evangelical Alliance, the global fellowship of Gospel-minded Christians that was first established in 1846, and now has 134 (independent) national alliances in its membership, includes the New Zealand Christian Network.

Earlier this week, the WEA officially handed over leadership roles. Among them, Rev Dr Brian Winslade, of Hamilton, was introduced as the new Deputy Secretary of the WEA. Watch his introduction video above. Brian is also a member of the NZCN Working Board.

If you would like to know more about the DNA of being evangelical, you might want to watch Dr Thomas Schirrmacher’s inaugural speech as the incoming Secretary General of the WEA. (Thomas visited New Zealand in 2019, and took a shine to NZCN’s Te Rongopai DVD). 

Victoria’s new ‘gay conversion’ law is also a violation of gay peoples’ freedom

Victoria’s new ‘gay conversion’ law is also a violation of gay peoples’ freedom

Recently, the state government in Victoria, Australia, passed the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Act 2021. The government of Victoria is committed to banning practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In particular, they had in their sights the practice colloquially called “gay conversion therapy”, which was and is a damaging practice that forcibly tries to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, or spiritual interventions. I think most people, regardless of their opinions on human sexuality, can agree that trying to force someone to change their sexual orientation against their will, especially through abusive practices, is wrong and harmful. If that was all this Act sought to do, I suspect it would be rather uncontroversial. But that is not all that it seeks to do.

Section 5.1 of the Act states that any attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity will be illegal, whether with or without the person’s consent. In section 5.3, it states that attempting to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender by “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice…” is also considered a violation of this Act. Meanwhile, Section 10.1 states that the maximum penalty for violating the Act is up to ten years in prison, as well as a substantial fine.

This Act goes into incredibly dangerous territory, violating freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, as well as freedom of sexual expression. This is worrying, as the current NZ government has already stated that it wants to pass similar legislation here.

Now, there is already plenty written on how this Act violates freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, and I imagine the NZCN will have much more to say on those violations of religious freedoms in the future. But in this particular article, I want to focus on just one aspect: how this Act actually violates freedom of sexual expression, a freedom which has in recent times become sacrosanct in our New Zealand context.

So how does this Act violate freedom of sexual expression? Remember, the Act states “whether with or without the person’s consent” no attempt may be made, in consultation with others, to change how one expresses their sexuality. With that in mind, consider this hypothetical scenario: if I, as an adult heterosexual man, wanted to get counselling on how I could add gay sex to my life because I am questioning my current sexual identity, and I asked somebody to help me in that pursuit:  would that be considered conversion therapy? Given how this legislation is written, yes it would! But I doubt the government would ever enforce it for a questioning heterosexual person. Meanwhile, if a gay man wants advice on how to change his sexual practices, this new Act rules that he isn’t allowed to talk to anyone, even if he wants to! The Victorian government is dictating that by law gay people must remain in their gay sexual practices, even if they feel that is not how they want to express their sexual identity. What an inconsistency! I thought the whole point of giving sexual freedom and choice to consenting adults was so that they could pursue any sexual practice or expression they wanted, as long as everyone consented?

It seems to me that, in this talk about “gay conversion”, what is really happening is we once again have an example of a largely heterosexual majority deciding the sexual practices of gay people in the name of “their protection”. This appears wrong to me, quite apart from the implications for freedom of religion for Muslims, Orthodox and Conservative Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians, and for freedom of conscience for other traditional cultures. The progressive Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, made the salient point, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”

It is my hope that the New Zealand government passes a much more careful law than the Victorian one, a law which takes all New Zealanders’ rights into consideration, protecting all individuals, those in the LGBTQ+ community as well as those in various religious traditions or from traditional cultures. For sure, LGBTQ+ individuals should feel safe and free to live in our society, and should be protected from any abusive and coercive conversion therapy against their wishes. But they shouldn’t be forced to adopt or remain in particular ways of living either, especially if they are actually wanting to explore other forms of sexual expression. Gay people should have the same freedom as heterosexual people to pursue or not pursue the sexual practices they desire. Finally, that same freedom should be extended to all those who want to base their sexual expression on their religious, cultural, or philosophical tradition.

Gay conversion therapy: some serious implications for New Zealand

Gay conversion therapy: some serious implications for New Zealand

At the outset, let’s agree that any “gay conversion therapy” practices which are cruel, coercive, or against anyone’s own wishes are inappropriate.

The problem, however, is that legislation outlawing “gay conversion therapy” often goes much further than merely banning coercive practices. Instead, such legislation appears to attempt to re-engineer society, through using the law to force people to think, act, and speak differently in relation to same-sex and gender matters. For instance, the Prohibition of Conversion Therapy Bill (a private member’s bill awaiting consideration by the New Zealand Parliament), could – depending on how the courts interpret and apply the law – potentially make the following vulnerable to a criminal charge…

  • counsellors who give support to anyone who voluntarily asks for help in redirecting their sexuality away from same-sex expression
  • those (including parents) who advise children or youth against changing gender
  • preachers and youth workers who draw attention to biblical passages against same-sex behaviour.

If this Bill were enacted, it could have a serious effect on all faith communities – Christian or otherwise – and dangerously compromise freedoms of expression and of religion. Surely a free society must allow all people to hold their own beliefs and live as they please, providing they do not infringe the rights or liberties of others.

Mark Maney’s article, on the anti-conversion therapy law which has just been enacted across the Tasman in Victoria, highlights how that law is so hazardous to freedom it even restricts the freedom of gay people themselves…