Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Human Rights Commission: "Freedom of thought does not extend to being allowed to adopt thoughts or beliefs at a public event..." #PSA

Be careful what you wish for. Now that the case brought against Auckland Council by the Free Speech Coalition over the visit of Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux has come before the courts, the case so many of you called for, it seems to be playing out just as some of us feared it would.

When the Free Speech Coalition protested Auckland Council's withdrawal of the Town Hall for the visit of Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, threatening legal action against the council's decision, a guest poster and I warned that a legal protest, as the Coalition had elected to pursue, comes with some very serious risks to free speech in New Zealand. [See 'Will the Coalition for Free Speech Instead Play a Part in its Muzzling?' and 'Molyneux & Southern V Goff: This was never about free speech']

The main risk warned about is this:

  1. that the council's withdrawal of the hall was not done in its capacity as the territorial authority (which would have been censorship); instead
  2. the withdrawal of the hall was done its capacity as the owner of the hall (it did not ban them speaking, it simply withdrew a taxpayer-funded microphone, which is a perfectly legitimate judgment call for any property owner); 
  3. the risk with such a legal protest being that, if successful, the courts could then set a precedent in case law that may preclude all property owners from making such legitimate judgments in future, "bringing a ban on so-called 'hate speech' by the back door."
In other words, in order that the Coalition smack the council this time, its legal action threatened to have property owners smacked for all time.

As we commented at the time, that blurring of the boundaries between owner and territorial authority is one reason the council should be out of the business of renting halls. But as long as they are, then if the council follows the guidelines of the misnamed Human Rights Act in making such a call they can argue they are simply acting "neutrally" on the basis of settled law in order to "protect the community."

It seems to be playing out precisely as our guest poster feared. In court this morning, arguing the case, both the council's lawyers and those from the misnamed Human Right Commission argued precisely this point: 
  • that council was acting as a commercial party and not in a “governance” role – and therefore the decision to cancel the event is not “judicially reviewable” by the Court; and
  • the Coalition's argument about so-called "political discrimination" should be heard only by the Human Rights Review Tribunal and not the High Court (a jurisdictional argument).
It gets worse, according to David Cumin of the Coalition.
Believe it or not, the [misnamed] HRC argues that freedom to form an opinion is only applicable in private – that freedom of thought does not extend to being allowed to adopt thoughts or beliefs at a public event ...
That an organisation calling itself by the name of "human rights' would argue this (if reported correctly) is appalling. It is good that the trial has helped reveal the true nature of this organisation.

Sadly, what the trial also promises to do, however, is to set the very chilling twin precedent that:

  • property owners are to be muzzled by the misnamed Human Rights Commission; and
  • freedom of thought will not extend to being allowed to adopt thoughts or beliefs in public.
"So," as my guest poster warned, "instead of the interests of free speech being advanced by the Coalitions's challenge, I fear it may instead give the Act that muzzles free speech more teeth."

It was a risky call to take the case, based upon legs that didn't stand up. And as warned, the outcome of the blunder for free speech may be precisely the opposite for which Free Speech Coalition supporters signed up.


  1. The stakes couldn't be any higher. Where's the media coverage?

  2. Anyway, now that the cards have been dealt, I hope the concerns are disproven, and the Coalition secures the best possible outcome.

  3. Just because the Council's lawyer is arguing they have the same rights as a private property owner doesn't mean we have to accept it. Provided the Coalition puts their case forward in the correct manner (i.e. that their case rests on them being a public entity), I still support their action. If they concede the premise of the Council, or try to advance their position through HRC; they're idiots who don't understand the basis of free speech - but I've seen nothing to date to indicate this is the case.


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