Friday, 19 April 2024

From The Liberty Wall – Free Speech: How Do We Protect It? What Exactly Is A ‘Hate’ Crime?
“If you don’t believe in a person’s right to say things that you might find ‘grossly offensive’, then you don’t believe in freedom of speech.”
Ricky Gervais
WHAT exactly is a ‘hate crime’ – and has anyone ever seen a legal definition of what constitutes a ‘hate crime’?
The reason we ask is because the term ‘hate crime’ is increasingly used but no one really seems to know what the phrase really means. Indeed, we’re not aware of seeing, hearing or reading about anyone who has provided a clear cut definition of the phrase.
Various academics, think tanks and politicians use it – but it’s always used in a vague and subjective manner. Even the police use it, but they don’t really seem to know what it means either!
All of this worries us. Once words lose their real meaning – once they’re corrupted – we’re on the slippery slope to losing one essential freedom: the right to free speech itself.
Accusing an opponent of committing some form of ‘hate crime’ seems to be par for the course these days. Indeed, it’s slung about ad nauseam during political ‘debates’ in particular. However, it must also be remembered that some politicians often deliberately conflate words and phrases to gain some form of political advantage or simply to shut down debate.
Closing down debate is something that we’ll return to later in this article. For now, however, we want to return to our core theme – and that’s exactly what is a ‘hate crime’?

The reason why Free Speech: How Do We Protect It? asks this question was prompted by a brief news report that was recently brought to our attention.

The news report noted that leaflets – produced by an organisation called the New British Union – had been distributed in a small area of Larne, a coastal town in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland.
This is how Ulster TV (a local TV station) reported the news:
‘Residents have said they feel intimidated by fascist leaflets posted through letterboxes in Larne, and a complaint has been made to police.
The flyers promoting a right-wing extremist group, calling themselves the New British Union, have been hand-delivered in the Upper Cairncastle Road area of the Co. Antrim town in recent days.
The UK group – made up of many defectors from groups like the British National Party and English Defence League – is trying to revive Oswald Mosley’s notorious British Union of Fascists party.
They have been operating in England and Scotland for around five years, but this is the first time they have tried to gather support in Northern Ireland.
“This sort of thing has no support in Larne at all and would be very, very frightening for residents to receive through their letterboxes,” Larne resident Danny Donnelly said.
“We’re very, very concerned about it.
“I believe it’s a hate crime, so I have contacted local police to make them aware and hopefully they’ll investigate and we can find out who’s behind it.” (1)
Before we look at this ‘hate crime’ Free Speech would like to comment on the news report itself.
First of all, let us state that we believe that a free and open media has a vital and important role to play in society. However, we sometimes get the feeling that some elements of the media are working to their own agenda and to a pre-set narrative. And we increasingly get this feeling when we hear about ‘hate crime’.
With this in mind, we noticed that the complainant, Danny Donnelly, wasn’t asked to give a calm and rational explanation how this act of leafletting was intimidatory or constituted a ‘hate crime’. Instead his allegation was taken at face value and reported as fact.
(If the New British Union – NBU – leaflet had carried any form of blood-curdling threat it would have been the thrust of the news article, but it wasn’t. Therefore, Mr Donnelly must be objecting to the actual act of leafletting itself).
Secondly, and to put the news article into context, we weren’t told anything about Mr Donnelly himself. What’s his background – is he politically opposed to the NBU or does he have some sort of personal ‘beef’ with them? Sadly, we’re not told.
Thirdly, is it really intimidatory and “very, very frightening” to receive a leaflet – even a fascist one? People receive various advertising leaflets all of the time and most of them automatically end up in the recycling bin. We presume that householders who had no interest in the NBU would have dumped their leaflet in the bin.
And finally, what gives Mr Donnelly the right to say who can – and who can’t – distribute leaflets in a particular area? When did he become Larne’s sole judge and jury?
We supposedly live in a democracy and that means we’re exposed to a variety of political views and opinions. Some of these views would be ones that we may agree with, some we might not. But everyone has the right to put forward their views – and that includes folks like the NBU. To refuse fascist groups like the NBU the right to produce and distribute leaflets is undemocratic and illiberal. Ironically, it’s an act of fascism in itself!
And this is where we return to the wider issue of closing down debate.
Free Speech believes that the use of prejudicial buzz words like ‘anti-Semitic,’ ‘racist,’ ‘homophobic,’ ‘Islamophobic’ and now ‘hate crime’ are all designed to shut down debate on particularly ‘sensitive’ issues. And those who use these words with gay abandon can be seen as being (consciously or unconsciously) useful tools of the States.
These days it seems almost obligatory to become ‘offended’ by one thing or another. It doesn’t matter if it’s a joke, a football chant or an unorthodox political point of view – someone will always be ‘offended’ by it. But how long will it be before ‘offence’ is upgraded to a ‘hate crime?’
Our fear is that if something like leafletting can be declared a ‘hate crime’ then the State could use this as an excuse to introduce even more draconian measures designed to restrict free thought, free speech and free assembly.
Is that the end goal for those who use the Orwellian phrase ‘hate crime’ at every opportunity?

1) Free Speech advocates can check out the original UTV news report here:

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