Government won't ban criticism of religious groups - Jacinda Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government won't ban criticism of religious groups, but is reviewing whether New Zealand laws go far enough in stopping violence against them.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has asked his ministry to work with the Human Rights Commission to look into whether New Zealand's laws sufficiently balance issues of freedom of speech and hate speech.

It comes in the wake of the Christchurch terror attacks and concerns from religious groups about extremist language from people inciting violence against them.

While laws prohibit the incitement of racial disharmony, Little says the same sanctions don't apply on grounds of religious faith.

Ardern said the work was extremely important, but needed to be dealt with carefully as to not inappropriately limit freedom of expression.

"I think probably that people will agree that is a gap in our legislation and so that is something the Minister is working his way through, really carefully though," she told The AM Show.

"This is an area where we need to be really cautious about balance freedom of speech, but also where that speech tips over into a space where it becomes potentially violent and harmful."

She said the review wouldn't lead to people's ability to criticise religious groups being banned, but instead it would consider if enough was being done to stop people threatening violence towards them.

"There is a very big difference between criticism and even sharing views that people necessarily wouldn't agree with, there is a very big difference between that and language which is designed to incite harm against others.

"That is something that we jealously guard in our legislation and our democracy, but at the same time, of course, people would expect that if you are trying to incite violence and potentially murder against groups of individuals based on their beliefs, no one in New Zealand would think that was okay either, so it is just making sure we get that balance."

But ACT Party leader David Seymour says freedom of speech is extremely important and politicians shouldn't be introducing any legislation that means people could be criminalised on the basis of opinion rather than fact.

"Where it gets difficult is when you have words such as 'insulting' which the world in the Human Rights Act currently, where you have words such as 'offensive' which is in the Harmful Digital Communications Act," he told The AM Show.

"The difficulty with those kind of words is that one person's 'insulting' or 'offensive' is another person's honestly held and freely expressed belief."

David Seymour.
David Seymour. Photo credit: Newshub.

He said what equals incitement of violence also depends on if that violence would actually happen as a result.

"It depends if it is likely to actually happen. If you are going to go after every fringe lunatic... then there are not going to be many people left on the internet."

Seymour said the Crimes Act already makes it clear it is a crime to incite another person to commit a crime or threaten someone with violence.


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