The Irish “hate speech” bill encourages censorship rather than combatting hate

What's the purpose of "hate speech" laws? Text with Irish flag.

Inform yourself about the Irish “hate speech” bill, and you’ll find the censorial truth.

Hate speech laws in Ireland increase censorship

Censorship. It’s an elusive term animated throughout history with growing relevance today. “Hate speech” laws loom large over Western political and social conversations. Blasphemy laws criminalize faith-based speech and belief in countries like Nigeria and Pakistan. By now, almost everyone is aware of censorship.

Some may think of George Orwell’s 1984; others, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Censorship takes many forms – like book burning and imposing “newspeak” – but Ireland now leads the dystopian cause with its hotly debated “hate speech” bill.

And so, as the state-driven tide of censorship sweeps the world, Europe stands at the forefront of the ongoing conversation. Why? Because almost every Western nation has introduced “hate speech” laws enabling authorities to enforce penalties for certain speech they deem unpopular or unorthodox.

These laws are introduced under the guise of combatting “a rise of hate”, or offensive speech that can make people feel insulted or uncomfortable. But criminalizing speech is not the answer. Rather, allowing more robust speech that facilitates open debate instead. That’s why we stand against so-called “hate speech” laws like the proposed one in Ireland.

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The Irish “hate speech” bill seeks to criminalize the possession of material “likely” to incite hatred. This includes memes and photos saved on devices, with up to five years of jail time. Yes, photos on personal devices. Yet, there is no clear definition of what “hate” entails.

Therefore, this is a dangerous trajectory. ADF International highlights the dangers of the “hate speech” bill while briefing Irish lawmakers on how to uphold freedom of speech.

What are “hate speech” laws?

So-called “hate speech” laws are ambiguously worded laws that criminalize certain speech beyond what is acceptable in a democratic society.

Despite having no basis in international law, all European Union Member States have vague and subjective “hate speech” laws. The United Nations, EU, and Council of Europe concur that “hate speech” lacks a universally agreed-upon definition. Nonetheless, the European Commission seeks to make “hate speech” an EU-wide crime on the same list as trafficking and terrorism.

These laws, with the wrong police and prosecutor, can be weaponized against any person and any form of speech. Thus, explicitly violating the state’s obligation to protect free speech.

Do “hate speech” laws deter hate?

The short answer is no. But because “hate speech” laws rely on vague terms such as ‘insult,’ ‘belittle,’ and ‘offend,’ they are inconsistently interpreted and arbitrarily enforced. Oftentimes, the threat of serious criminal penalties accompanies charges.

Rather than combat hate, the criminalization of speech based on subjective criteria creates a culture of fear and censorship.

An offence is considered hateful in reference to the hearer or reader, making it subjective with little to no regard for the content of the speech itself. They are incompatible with free societies. 

How the proposed Irish "hate speech" law is different than others

The Irish “hate speech” bill would move the needle further. If passed, we could expect commonplace prosecutions like Päivi Räsänen’s for posting a Bible verse on “X” in 2019 about her biblical worldview on marriage and sexuality. In fact, Ireland’s censorial law would go even further than Finland’s.

We’re ramping up public advocacy to expose the unprecedented dangers of what the Irish government is doing. All have the right to live and speak the truth without fear of censorship or retaliation. That’s why we’re asking Irish lawmakers to uphold their obligation to protect free speech under international human rights law.

Consequently, the Irish “hate speech” bill has two major facets that other laws like Finland’s do not include. For example:
  • It leaves the issue of gender open-ended by including a list of “protected characteristics” allowing for unlimited “gender identities” like ‘non-binary’ and ‘two-spirit’. These self-identities would receive protection supported by criminal law.

  • It allows authorities to criminalize private possession of memes or any content “likely” to incite violence or hatred “…against a person or group of persons on account of their protected characteristics”.

This means “misgendering” someone could land you a criminal prosecution, fine or worse. If the Irish “hate speech” bill becomes law, Irish police would have the power to search phones, camera rolls, and emails for prosecutable content.

It’s paramount that we all spread awareness about the dangers of this bill.

Why Ireland is pushing this now

The Irish government claims that the law is necessary following rising incidents of violence in the country, which many tie to uncontrolled migration. But peace and security on the streets do not require “hate speech” laws suppressing peaceful speech.

With key terms deliberately undefined, how are we to know what kind of speech could be subject to prosecution? “Hate speech” laws are Western blasphemy laws by another name; both are state driven.

The thought of Irish police raiding homes and phones to seize banned books and memes invokes thoughts of Orwell and the darker moments of the last century. 

Our right to freedom of expression is protected by numerous international human rights treaties. The European Court of Human Rights even affirmed that the right to freedom of expression protects not just popular ideas but also those that shock, offend, and disturb.   

Yet, some argue that unpopular speech should be censored by the state. But where is the logical stopping point?

Have we learned nothing from Finland? 

“Hate speech” laws are detrimental to a society seeking to protect freedom of speech or thought. In Finland, we’ve supported Päivi’s defence for almost five years with two unanimous acquittals. She was charged with three counts of “hate speech” because of her “X” post, a pamphlet she authored for her church, and comments she made during a radio programme.

In January 2024, the state prosecutor appealed her case to the Finnish Supreme Court. On 19 April, the high court agreed to hear the appeal, so Päivi will face her third criminal trial in three years. However, the legal process is Päivi’s punishment because the state has unlimited funds to prosecute offenders of their “hate speech” laws. Prosecutions cost taxpayer funds, while reputations sometimes become irreparably harmed.

If Päivi’s now famous “hate speech” case took place in Ireland, she could be prosecuted for simply possessing the pamphlet she wrote for her church congregation on the biblical definition of marriage, even if it was never published online.

Ireland should be a place where important conversations about issues that matter – even about controversial and sensitive topics thrive. When these conversations are shut down, we all lose out.

Conclusion: Ireland must reject its new “hate speech” bill

In summary, “hate speech” laws leave the door wide open to state censorship and oppression. And yet, the Irish government has been moving forward with a new bill to criminalize “hate speech” since 2022.

This could be one of the most far-reaching clampdowns on free speech by a modern democracy. It implicates memes, jokes, and books. Instead of protecting free speech and public safety, this law is poised to set a draconian precedent of intolerance against those who express beliefs outside the state-approved orthodoxy. 

Unpopular speech needs the most protection, and in a free society, free speech is required. Individuals should be able to express their beliefs without fear or oppression. The Irish “hate speech” bill is a far cry from the liberal democratic ideals the Irish government claims to profess.

Police settle case brought by Christian pastor they tried to forbid from “commenting on any other religion”

  • Christian leader receives settlement from police who wrongfully tried to ban him from criticising alternative worldviews, such as atheism and Islam
  • Avon & Somerset Police concede their restrictions on expression were “disproportionate” after successful challenge backed by ADF International and the Free Speech Union

BRISTOL (27 February 2024) – Avon & Somerset Police Force have conceded their restrictions on free speech were “disproportionate” after unlawfully censoring Christian leader, Dia Moodley, a Bristol-based pastor and father of four.

The police force had issued a warning notice to Moodley, who has engaged in occasional street evangelism for the past five years, which forbade him from, inter alia, “passing comments on any other religion or comparing them to Christianity” and “passing comments on beliefs held by Atheists or those who believe in evolution”.

A claim for damages was backed by ADF UK and Free Speech Union, who instructed solicitors from Ai Law.

It isn’t for the police to decide which religions or worldviews can be free from criticism. When I preach, I am committed to speaking about the good news of Christianity in love, grace, and truth – but that doesn’t mean that I will never say something that others may disagree with. The nature of a free and democratic society is that we can speak publicly about our beliefs.

Thankfully, with support from ADF UK and the Free Speech Union, I have received some measure of justice after having been wrongfully silenced by authorities. But this creeping culture of censorship is detrimental to all of us in society, whatever we believe, and we must challenge it wherever we see it,” commented Dia Moodley, who successfully challenged police after they forbade him from speaking freely about his Christian beliefs – and comparing them to other religious views – in public.

A breach of free speech

Moodley had initially reached out to the Avon & Sommerset Police Force after being the victim of several incidents of racial abuse, at the advice of Bristol-based charity Stand Against Racism and Inequality. Officers began to regularly attend Moodley’s public preaching in order to protect both the pastor and his congregation.

In October 2021, Moodley arranged a meeting with the neighbourhood police force in order to maintain good working relations. However, at this meeting, the pastor was served with the warning notice, which he refused to sign.

In addition to forbidding criticism of religions other than Christianity, the warning notice further encroached on Moodley’s right to freedom of expression by banning him from “delivering a sermon or religious address at a time or place that has not had prior consent and approval of Avon & Somerset Constabulary.”

Backed by ADF International and the Free Speech Union, Moodley successfully challenged the Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Police for discrimination on religious grounds and for breaching his ECHR rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; freedom of expression; and freedom of assembly and association.

Commenting on the case, Bryn Harris, Chief Legal Officer for the Free Speech Union, said: “The state does not hold a monopoly on truth and the ability to discuss and debate ideas, including religious ideas, is the lifeblood of any genuinely free society. Yet, repeatedly, we see this principle violated by unaccountable police officers and local councils who aggressively pursue their own ideological causes rather than using scarce public resources to tackle real crime.”

Upon receiving news of the settlement, Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK, said, “Dia Moodley’s case exposes a clear double standard in British policing when the issue concerns the expression of core beliefs; particularly Christian beliefs. Bristol authorities unabashedly requested prior review of Dia’s sermons and banned him from speaking about any other religion – including atheism. This blatantly restricted his freedom of religion and speech in an attempt to redefine established British values in accordance with their own ideals.

Whilst we welcome the police force’s admission that their actions were disproportionate, it is crucial that the laws permitting such flagrant violations of freedom of speech are urgently addressed to prevent the need for Dia and others like him from being embroiled in years of legal proceedings only to defend what should have instantly been recognised as their lawful, peaceful and constitutional rights to speak freely in public.”

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Lent pro-life volunteers alarmed as Germany considers UK-style censorship zones to criminalise help and prayer near abortion organisations 

  • New draft law would introduce censorship zones in Germany for behaviour that could be perceived as “confusing” or “disturbing” – potentially including prayer
  • Asked about the frequency of “harassment” incidents at abortion facilities that would justify the introduction of censorship zones, the government admitted: “The federal government does not have any concrete numerical findings.”
  • German lawyer Dr. Felix Böllmann: “The German government wants to ban something, but doesn’t know what or why”

Berlin (15 February 2024) – During Lent, pro-life volunteers again set to the streets to pray for women and their unborn children. In Germany, however, a new bill plans to introduce vaguely defined censorship zones, banning behaviour that could be perceived as “confusing” or “disturbing” within 100 Meters of abortion organizations with fines up to 5,000€.

The bill has already caused confusion due to its vague wording and disputed necessity. In response to a parliamentary question seeking information on how, when, and where problematic incidents of hindrance or harassment near abortion facilities occurred, the responsible Ministry recently admitted: “The federal government does not have any concrete numerical findings” that would support the need for such a far-reaching bill.

“Thoughtcrimes” in the UK as a warning example

Whereas harassment is already illegal, free speech advocates warn that the language of the bill could criminalise a simple offer of help made to women in crisis pregnancies, as well as prayer. In the UK, where censorship zones have already been introduced, charitable volunteer Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for praying silently in her head near an abortion facility, as seen in a viral video. With support from ADF International, Vaughan-Spruce was acquitted in court; but two further individuals currently await trial for the same “thoughtcrime”. ADF International is supporting their legal defence.

“The right to peacefully pray is protected by international and national law. No matter one’s opinion on abortion, everyone suffers when we start to censor the right to speak freely, pray, or engage in consensual conversations.  The federal government wants to ban something but doesn’t know what or why. This law doesn’t ban “confusion”, it creates more of it – both for citizens trying to understand the law and police officers who will have to enforce any vague new prohibitions,” noted Dr. Felix Böllmann, German lawyer and Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.

The draft bill is currently with the Federal Council and is still open for amendments. It will be voted on in the parliament.

A new video features ADF International spokesperson Ludwig Brühl explaining the detrimental effects of censorship zones: “The government wants to ban certain opinions in an area the size of almost five football pitches.

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Federal minister Lisa Paus, who is pushing for the bill, said: “if you harass people with expressions of opinion that they clearly don’t want to hear, then this will become an offence punishable with a fine of up to €5,000.” Brühl disagrees: “Of course harassment is rightly prohibited – and has been for a long time. But this is just an excuse to marginalize, punish and censor certain opinions. Pro-life volunteers are there to pray, or to offer information about help available to women who would like to consider other options than abortion.”

ADF International conducts global advocacy for free speech. In the UK and Germany, ADF International lawyers have successfully supported several pro-life volunteers who faced criminal proceedings for their silent prayers.

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Germany plans to unveil censorship zones which violate freedom of speech and free assembly

Pavica Vojnovic standing outside of a facility which is inside of a censorship zone.

All of Germany must reject this bill because whether pro-life or not, censorship zones would ensnare everyone

Pavica Vojnovic outside of an abortion facility where censorship zones silence pro-life speech.

The German government is planning to introduce so-called censorship zones in certain locations – just like the UK. These censorship zones around abortion facilities are established to silence the pro-life view. These zones are not “pro-choice”, they’re no-choice.

And their actions deliberately ignore recent rulings by the Federal Administrative Court. Several weeks ago, the federal government approved a draft law on censorship zones to be established in certain locations in front of and around German abortion-related facilities in which certain opinions can no longer be expressed and certain peaceful activities prohibited.

What are censorship zones?

Censorship zones are areas defined by the local administration or even the legislature where specific opinions, actions or gatherings are prohibited. These zones censor certain expressions of opinion, hence the name ‘censorship zone’.

A look at Great Britain shows where restrictions on peaceful prayers can lead. In recent months, several people have been arrested there due to local censorship zones. The arrests occurred because individuals were quietly praying on a public street. The zones there have led to even silent prayer and, thus, thoughts being criminalized. We must not stand for this. Here’s why: 

Censorship zones violate fundamental freedoms

Censorship zones are advanced under the guise of protecting women, but they are levied against peaceful individuals who in no way condone the harassment of women. After all, harassment is already prohibited under German criminal law.

What is most dangerous, however, is the fact that certain opinions are banned because they’re unpopular. Even if we disagree on abortion, we should agree that basic human rights—like free expression and free thought—are too important to throw out the window. 

We all have the basic human right to think, act, and pray in accordance with our convictions.

Only recently, the Federal Administrative Court confirmed the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion of a pro-life prayer group.

They gathered across the street from an abortion facility and quietly prayed. The police did not find harassment while observing the group in Pforzheim.

Similarly in the UK, A pro-life activist is being investigated for a third time for praying silently in a censorship zone.

She had nothing with her, did not prevent women from entering the abortion facility, and did not even speak to anyone. A silent prayer in her mind was enough to bring her to court – a serious violation of freedom of thought.

Censorship zones are clearly having serious consequences for fundamental freedoms in the UK and we cannot let the same thing happen in Germany. 

These zones silence without offering help

Censorship zones do nothing to protect women. Rather, they block women from hearing about the offers of help available to them.

The sad reality is that these zones fail the women who choose abortion out of a sense of helplessness. By banning peaceful offers of help and alternative options, many women will feel even more alone.

Shouldn’t women in crisis pregnancies have access to help and alternative options to abortion?

If the state can ban freedom of expression and assembly in front of certain establishments, why not in other places?

There is no logical endpoint for such censorship

Freedom of expression, assembly, and freedom of religion benefit all people. These fundamental rights cannot be restricted under the pretext of harassment – which is already a criminal offence.

This bill is aimed at silencing pro-life views, to get those who stand up for the lives of the unborn to self-censor and remain silent. That’s why we’re pushing back against these censorial laws – will you help us?

The bill, which was approved by the cabinet on January 24th, 2024, will now be forwarded to the Bundesrat, which can already introduce amendments. This will be followed by the legislative process in the Bundestag, which will end with a vote on the law.

As the legal impact of these zones becomes clear, we must remain committed to defending the basic human right to free expression, including preventing the proliferation of “thought crimes” where people can even be prosecuted for silent prayer.  

Will you stand alongside us for the protection of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly?

We must stand up for our fundamental rights together.

European Parliament “strongly condemns” Christmas Eve massacre of Christians in Nigeria, but blames climate change

Adina Portaru before the European Parliament.

Brussels (8 February 2024) – In an urgency resolution adopted today, the European Parliament “strongly condemns the acts of violence over Christmas targeting Christians” in Nigeria. However, the text does not fully acknowledge the highly detrimental role of Sharia law, Islamic Extremist groups, and the danger of blasphemy accusations but rather elevates “the role of climate change” and “environmental degradation” as root causes.   

During Christmas 2023, at least 195 Christians were murdered by Fulani militants in at least 20 communities across Central Plateau State, Nigeria. More than 300 Christians suffered injuries or lost their homes. There are reports of 8 churches burnt down and 15,000 people internally displaced by the attacks. “We were taken unawares, and those that could run ran into the bush. A good number of those that couldn’t were caught and killed with machetes,” local resident Magit Macham told Reuters. 

While we applaud the European Parliament’s recognition of the horrific Christmas massacre targeting Christians, we are disappointed that the resolution downplays the religious causes of the violence while highlighting issues such as climate change. Climate change does not cause people to massacre whole Christian villages,” said Dr. Georgia Du Plessis, Legal Officer for ADF International, after the adoption.  

Christians in Nigeria are particularly targeted and vulnerable. In 2021, 90% of all Christians worldwide who were killed for their faith were in Nigeria. On average 14 Nigerian Christians die every day. 

MEP: “Insensitive to human suffering when it comes to Christians” 

In a debate preceding the adoption of the resolution, several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) raised concerns about attempts to downplay the role of Islamic extremism and terrorism in the violent attacks and killings.  

MEP Bert-Jan Ruissen (ECR) stated that “saying that it is a mere conflict between farmers and herders fails to acknowledge the other causes. It is Muslim extremists causing death and destruction.”  

MEP György Hölvényi (EPP) said in his address: “Blinded by ideology, some people are totally insensitive to human suffering when it comes to Christians. The timing of the attacks, brutal killings, and  destruction of churches cannot be misinterpreted and can only be understood as the persecution of Christians and we should be able to say so.”  

Supreme Court case of Sufi Muslim supported by ADF International could overturn blasphemy laws 

For several years already, ADF International lawyers have supported the defence of Sufi Muslim Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, a young Nigerian musician sentenced to death under the blasphemy law of Kano state in northern Nigeria. Yahaya’s alleged crime involved sending song lyrics on WhatsApp that were deemed blasphemous toward the prophet Mohammed. 

With support from ADF International, Yahaya appealed his case to the Supreme Court of Nigeria and is challenging the constitutionality of Sharia-based blasphemy laws. The case has the potential to overturn the country’s draconian blasphemy law regime in the northern states. Find more information here. 

In April 2023, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the release of Yahaya Sharif-Aminu and urged Nigeria to “repeal the blasphemy laws at federal and state level”. 

In May 2022, Nigerian persecution caught global attention when Christian student Deborah Emmanuel Yakubu was stoned and beaten to death, and her body burnt, by her classmates in Sokoto State after they accused her of blasphemy for thanking Jesus for helping her pass an exam. Another Christian woman, Rhoda Jatau, condemned the violence against Yakubu on social media and subsequently faced death threats and mob violence. ADF International is also supporting Jatau’s defense. Find out more here. 

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