Inform yourself about the Irish “hate speech” bill, and you’ll find the censorial truth.
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 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 one being debated in Ireland.
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 is highlighting the dangers of the “hate speech” bill while briefing Irish lawmakers to uphold free 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 right 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, often with the threat of serious criminal penalties.
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 is the proposed Irish law different?
The Irish “hate speech” bill would move the needle further. If made law, 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. Why? Because 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 fine or worse, criminal prosecution. 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 Bradbury 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 close to 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, the state prosecutor appealed her case to the Finnish Supreme Court. 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 we can have important conversations about issues that matter – even about controversial and sensitive topics. 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, implicating 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.