Free Speech Reply

spigelBeing offensive should not be illegal, according to Jim Spigelman, the Chair of the ABC.

Mr Spigelman was giving the 2012 Human Rights Day Oration at the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 25th Human Rights Award Ceremony.

Laws restricting hate speech should aim to protect people’s dignity against assault, he said. But “declaring conduct, relevantly speech, to be unlawful, because it causes offence, goes too far.”

The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended.

Mr Spigelman said that the proposed Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, introduced “offending” into the definition of discrimination for all purposes, not just for racial vilification.

The inclusion of “religion” as a “protected attribute” in the workplace, appears to me, in effect, to make blasphemy unlawful at work, but not elsewhere. The controversial Danish cartoons could be published, but not taken to work. Similar anomalies could arise with other workplace protected attributes, eg. “political opinion”, “social origin”, “nationality”.

The new Bill proposed a significant redrawing of the line between permissible and unlawful speech, he said.

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 far.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.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s