As I write this blog, there is a debate brewing here in New Zealand about whether the immigration authorities should allow the controversial anti-trans activist Posie Parker entry to the country. To be clear, Posie Parker is the nom de plume of British woman Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull and not the American actress and musician Parker Posey.
The British activist's anti-transgender rights rallies in Australia recently caused disruption and one in Melbourne was supported by a group of neo-nazis.
By the time this gets published, it will be old news, and she will either have been allowed entry into New Zealand to voice her views or refused entry at the border.
Free speech is something that most of us will argue is a basic right, and should be protected. We can all argue for the right of individuals to be able to stand up to oppression. The freedom of association and the freedom of religion are without doubt inviolate rights.
What about the right to satirise or criticise? What about the right to voice one's beliefs? When are the rights of the individual outweighed by the rights of society?
Should we ever be allowed to silence someone for saying something that we don't agree with?
I think we can all agree that any rally where supporters openly display the Nazi salute is one that we would prefer didn’t exist and that some might suggest should be prevented from happening in the first place. Having said that, just because most of us might think that such a rally is undesirable, there may be people out there who find social nudity abhorrent. How would we feel if a nudist rally were prevented from happening? How would we feel if something we strongly believed in was suppressed and banned?
Suppressing free speech is acceptable, so long as the speech we are suppressing is something we don’t like, but it becomes an issue when our own beliefs are challenged. The unintended consequences of banning free speech on volatile issues like this could well backfire. We need to be careful not to allow a well-intentioned and apparently sensible exclusion to create a precedent for banning all sorts of activity that we might be ok with, sometime in the future.
I had never heard of Posie Parker until a few days ago, but her recent media coverage here has re-ignited the free speech debate. Should New Zealand ban her from entering the country because we don’t like what she has to say, or should she be free to visit and say what she likes?
My partner and I have different attitudes toward free speech. One of us believes that it is absolute and that everyone should be free to say whatever they like. The other is a little more reserved and believes that there should be limits on free speech, especially speech that incites hatred or harm to others. To be fair, my assertion that people should be free to say what they like does not exclude them from any consequences resulting from such speech. With rights come responsibilities.
Absolutely, speech that incites harm to others crosses a line and those making such statements must be held to account, but if we ban people from voicing opinions, are we not in danger of pushing those ideas underground to fester unchecked? If someone’s speech causes injury or threatens someone's safety, should we not take the opportunity to highlight the harm and allow people to reflect on and consider their words?
We already have laws and rules that allow for prosecutions for disturbing the peace or inciting harm. Should we wait until someone crosses that line before prosecuting or should we prevent them from having their say, in case they cross that line? To me, the latter sounds a lot like the science-fiction pre-crime police. What happened to the tenet of innocent until proven guilty?
Language and attitudes evolve, and many things that were commonplace not that many years ago would now be frowned upon and considered inappropriate. Many of the tv shows and films of the past reflect attitudes that have changed considerably. I recently re-read some Tintin comic books, a part of my childhood, and was bothered by some of the stereotypes and attitudes present. As a child, it didn’t occur to me that the books were racist, but society's attitudes have altered and changed for the better. I don’t believe that Tintin should be banned or altered to meet today's standards. They were written in their time and exist as a record that we can reflect on.
We need to remember that not everyone is at the same point on the spectrum of views in society, and some have views that may be challenging for many but are deeply held and difficult to change.
Allowing free speech doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t question it. If we are to challenge the views and attitudes that we find uncomfortable, then the people holding those views need to be able to express them.
The right to free speech is more important than the content of the speech
Thank you for reading, have a comfortable day.
Immigration New Zealand did allow Posie Parker entry into New Zealand. She was scheduled to make two public appearances, one in Auckland on Saturday, March 25th and one in Wellington on Sunday, March 26th. At her first gig in Auckland, she was met with thousands of trans rights protesters and had tomato juice thrown over her. She left the event before speaking and headed straight to the airport where she flew out of the country.
I do not condone the assault on Posie Parker, and the protester involved may well face prosecution for their actions, something they have accepted as a consequence of their behaviour. Violence or assault is never a solution to any argument or disagreement. Unfortunately, in issues where emotions run high, confronting a crowd with unpopular opinions reduces the likelihood of reasoned discussion. Pressing on with a rally against advice, some of the responsibility for the outcome of the fracas must rest with Posie Parker herself.
the subject of the article is more meaningful in today's world. This topic will not have any conclusive end even we debate it relentlessly. The freedom of speech & the freedom of expression has to be respected by every human being & the society which follows these principles religiously, will be the most matured society. Of course, for the followers of these principles there should not be place for the slightest of physical offence/violence. However it becomes very difficult to remain without physical offence as we came across more number of aggressive critics.
It's not quite the same thing, though. Neo-Nazis, anti-trans activists & other such groups have suppression of people's rights, disruption of civil order and breaking of laws as their goals. Nudists do not.