The chilling effect of anti-vilification laws

Following his victory in the vilification case brought against him by two drag queens in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, Lyle Shelton is turning his attention to advocate for much needed reform of the so-called ‘hate speech’ laws that formed the basis of the claims made against him.

Lyle has highlighted the fundamental problems with these laws: 

While ever these laws remain on the books, these anti-freedom of speech laws in our very flawed regime of anti-discrimination, anti-vilification, so-called hate speech laws, these can be used to try and silence and shut down a discussion about whether or not children should be subjected to sexualised drag queen role models whose agenda is to prematurely sexualise them and to tell them lies about their gender, which is very harmful to them.

The Tribunal’s decision touched on this issue, noting that the vilification law “also impacts human rights of free speech” (at para 60). The Tribunal also lamented that “the test for vilification remains unclear after so long,” referring to the lack of consensus in case law across jurisdictions in the way that the vilification law is applied.

The reality is that these laws are increasingly being used by activists to shut down free speech and silence those who disagree with them. 

They create a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech, resulting in self-censorship and a stifling of public debate. 

In 2015, a complaint was made against Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous under Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws in relation to a pamphlet from the Australian Catholic Bishops which was provided to parents in Catholic schools, outlining Catholic Church teaching on marriage. 

The complaint was lodged by transgender activist and federal Greens candidate Martine Delaney but was later withdrawn.

Archbishop Porteous has echoed the sentiments expressed by Lyle: 

I have seen and experienced first hand the chilling effect of laws like the Tasmanian Anti-discrimination Act which allow complaints because a person feels offended.

Many Australians do not want even the slightest possibility of being hauled before a tribunal of this nature by an activist and so no longer feel comfortable in respectfully expressing their religious beliefs.

Even though Lyle was ultimately successful, the process was the punishment, and resulted in three and a half years of uncertainty and stress for Lyle and his family. 

Lyle is now fiercely committed to advocating for reform of Australia’s anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws:

No Australian should ever again be dragged through a three year legal process costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for engaging in important public debate about the welfare of children.

In a free society, debate should be met with debate, not taxpayer funded legal action designed to silence and punish a fellow citizen.