Proposed Irish censorship laws reflect global trend

Concerning new laws to criminalise ‘hate speech’ in Ireland signal a worrying ‘global trend toward censorship’, constituting a fundamental threat to freedom of expression and speech in the country.

Attempts to revive support for the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022 – first introduced in October 2022 – has occurred after recent riots in the country following the stabbing of three children in Dublin by a man who had been born in Algeria but had lived in Ireland for the past twenty years.

The bill aims to criminalise speech deemed to incite hatred or violence, extending to the possession of such material. This broad definition includes ‘protected characteristics’ such as disability, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or gender and others. The law would also compel Irish citizens to surrender their device passwords to authorities under certain conditions.

The law’s reach is extreme

Most astonishingly, one does not have to utter or even publish such speech. Mere possession of speech — memes stored on a cellphone, say — renders a person guilty if a judge later deems it “likely” to incite hatred. Refusing to share your text-message history with police, or to grant them your password to inspect the contents of your smartphone, brings a sentence of up to a year in prison. The law also presumes guilt once the legal gears start turning: “In any proceeding under this section . . . the person shall be presumed until the contrary is proved, to have been in possession of the material in contravention” of the law.

Kristen Waggoner, CEO of the Alliance for Defending Freedom, has raised grave concerns. She fears laws such as these could lead to criminalising free speech and have a chilling effect on open dialogue in Ireland, warning of a “global trend toward censorship”, with Western governments increasingly restricting free speech.

Waggoner points to several high profile ADF International cases, which she believes illustrate this global shift away from free speech. For instance, Finnish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen faced court trials for expressing her views on LGBT issues and homosexuality, reflecting the tension between free speech and hate speech accusations.

In Mexico, similar issues have arisen. Congressman Gabriel Quadri was accused of being a “gender-based political violator” for his tweets, and former Congressman Rodrigo Ivan Cortes faces a comparable situation. An extreme case involves Bishop Rolando Álvarez from Nicaragua, who was imprisoned for his sermons criticising the government.

Waggoner suggests that targeting high-profile individuals with these accusations is a tactic to intimidate the general public into self-censorship. She warned that the erosion of free speech could blur the line between democracies and dictatorships.

A recent poll of young people aged 18 to 34 in Britain found that 23 per cent said they would ban the Bible if it contained ‘hate speech’. Responding to the poll, Lois McLatchie from Alliance Defending Freedom UK warned against the increasing trend towards the censoring of views that conflict with current prevailing ideology:

"Censoring one type of belief because it fails to fit with the dominant orthodoxy of our day is no better than imposing the illiberal blasphemy laws of the Middle Ages.

"We need a robust defence of religious freedom from those who craft our legislation and we need to educate the 'be kind' generation on the truly hateful consequences of censorship before this type of thinking creeps further into reality."

HRLA client Lyle Shelton was accused of hate speech and vilification under similar laws in operation in Queensland, after a blog he wrote criticised Brisbane Library’s Drag Queen Storytime event for children. His victory was a critical win for freedom of speech and sets an important precedent for the future. The two drag queens are seeking leave to appeal the decision, and HRLA will continue to assist with his defence.

HRLA continues to work hard to assist ordinary Australians defend their religious freedom rights, including freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, expression and speech.