There are differences between free speech, hate speech and academic freedom – and they matter


Academic freedom protects free speech, but also sets conditions.
from http://www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND

Dominic O’Sullivan, Charles Sturt University

Last week, posters appeared at the University of Auckland inviting young white men to “assume the mantle of re-taking control of our own country” and to confront “anti-racism ideology”.

The group was obviously unaware of the significance of the British High Commissioner’s expression of regret, in the same week, for the killing of several Māori people during their first encounter with the English explorer James Cook in 1769.

At least 1,300 academics and students signed an open letter, arguing that racism and white supremacy have no place at the university and challenging the Vice Chancellor’s initial position that there is no justification for removing the posters.

This week, the Vice Chancellor changed his position, telling staff that a debate about free speech should be put to one side for now, as the most important matter was the “real hurt and sense of threat that some people in our university community feel in response to these expressions of white supremacist views”.




Read more:
Academic freedom is under threat around the world – here’s how to defend it


Free speech vs academic freedom

Neither the Vice Chancellor nor the signatories to the open letter bring academic freedom into the debate. But minister of justice Andrew Little, a former president of the New Zealand University Students’ Association, argued that there is “no principle of academic freedom” that says white supremacy ought to be protected.

Free speech, hate speech and academic freedom are related but different. And the differences matter.

Free speech is the right to say whatever one likes. It is unconstrained by the disciplines of reason and objectivity. It doesn’t require factual accuracy. As with academic freedom, it doesn’t matter if one’s opinion is unpopular. Both free speech and academic freedom are essential to democracy.

Free speech belongs in universities as much as anywhere else. It is the right to hold opinions and to challenge the opinions of others. A Chinese student in New Zealand once asked me if it was alright to criticise the prime minister in an essay. This underscores the importance of free speech, but also the need for great caution in setting its limits.

Academic freedom protects free speech on the one hand, but conditions it on the other. Universities cannot support the unrestricted pursuit of knowledge if one cannot think freely. But knowledge cannot be tested and doesn’t advance if there isn’t also a duty to be well informed and reasoned – and willing to have one’s ideas scrutinised by others.

In a university, the test of a reasonable opinion is higher. One cannot say whatever one likes and call it academic freedom.

Hate speech as a limit

Both free speech and academic freedom are limited by hate speech.

According to the United Nations, hate speech is:

any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.

When people say that they want to “reclaim” a country as their own and contest “anti-racism” they are saying overtly and unapologetically that they don’t want others to have a democratic presence. They are saying that they don’t want others to have free speech. Nor do they want academics who are not “young white men” to have academic freedom.

These aren’t democratically legitimate differences of opinion because “toleration is not the solution to intolerance”.

There are differences between what is wrong and what is intolerably wrong. There are some views that a free society can’t tolerate.

Racism is intolerably wrong because it denies some people human equality. It creates a hierarchy of human worth and causes serious harm to its targets.




Read more:
Friday essay: networked hatred – new technology and the rise of the right


A ‘right to be bigots’

In Australia, free speech is restricted under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 which provides that:

It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

There are significant qualifications to these restrictions. But, in spite of these, in 2014 the attorney general told parliament that the act imposed unreasonable constraints on people’s “right to be bigots”.

The conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs claimed in 2018 that university policies curtailing free speech had dramatically increased in the preceding two years. The University of Sydney’s Vice Chancellor argued that robust processes “ensure that freedom of speech from all parts of the spectrum is alive and well on our campuses”.

But earlier this year, a government-commissioned inquiry found that “claims of a freedom of speech crisis on Australian campuses are not substantiated”. The review also found that universities should not allow visitors to use their premises to “advance theories or propositions … which fall below scholarly standards to such an extent as to be detrimental to the university’s character as an institution of higher learning”.

Defending a right to bigotry, or to express hate speech, trivialises what the denial of both free speech and academic freedom can really look like.
In China, for example, the state has warned against the presence of “mistaken views” in universities, including the study of constitutional democracy, civil society, economic liberalisation, freedom of the press, challenges to socialism with Chinese characteristics and discussion of universal values including academic freedom.

In the case of the white supremacy posters, it would seem that University of Auckland academics, not the Vice Chancellor, had the stronger argument.The Conversation

Dominic O’Sullivan, Associate Professor of Political Science, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Christian in Bangladesh Goes to Prison for Evangelism


DHAKA, Bangladesh, March 23 (CDN) — A Christian has been sentenced to one year in prison for “creating chaos” by selling and distributing Christian books and other literature near a major Muslim gathering north of this capital city.

A magistrate court in Gazipur district handed down the sentence to Biplob Marandi, a 25-year-old tribal Christian, on Feb. 28 after he was arrested near the massive Bishwa Ijtema (World Muslim Congregation) on the banks of the Turag River near Tongi town on Jan. 21.

A copy of the verdict says that he was sentenced according to Section 296 of Bangladeshi law 1860 for “creating chaos at a religious gathering.”

“Duty police found Marandi creating chaos as he was propagating his religion, Christianity, by distributing the tracts as a mobile court on Jan. 21 was patrolling near the field of the Bishwa Ijtema,” the verdict reads. “The accusation – creating chaos at a Muslim gathering by distributing Christian booklets and tracts – against him was read out in the court before him, and he admitted it. He also told the court that he had mainly wanted to propagate his religion, Christianity.”

The Rev. Sailence Marandi, pastor at Church of Nazarene International in northern Thakurgaon district and older brother of Biplob Marandi, told Compass that there was no altercation when his brother was distributing Christian tracts; likewise, the verdict makes no mention of any confrontation.

“I guess some fanatic Muslims found my brother’s works un-Islamic,” he said. “They created chaos and handed over my brother to the police and the mobile court.”

Pastor Marandi said he could not understand how a court could determine that one man could disturb a gathering of hundreds of thousands of Muslims.

“Fanatic Muslims might say this impossible thing, but how can the honorable court can say it?” he said. “In the verdict copy it is written that my brother admitted his offense in the court. This case being very religiously sensitive, I suspect that his confession statement might have been taken under duress.”

Pastor Marandi said his brother was selling Christian books to supplement his livelihood as an evangelist on a street near the event, and there were many curious pedestrians of all faiths among Muslims from around the world.

“Where there were more people, he would go there for selling books and distributing Christian tracts,” he said.

The pastor said he was surprised that Marandi was convicted and sentenced so quickly.

“My brother did not get the chance for self-defense in court,” he said. “Without opportunity for self-defense, sentencing him for one year for evangelical activities was a travesty of justice. It cannot be accepted in a democratic country.”

He added that the family hired a Muslim lawyer for Marandi who did little for him.

“If he had worked, then there would have been cross-examination regarding the confession statement,” Pastor Marandi said. “I think that some Muslim fanatics could not tolerate his evangelical activities near the religious gathering place and handed him over.”

The family has since hired a Christian attorney, Lensen Swapon Gomes, who told Compass that he filed an appeal on Monday (March 21) as Marandi’s religious activities were protected by the religious freedom provisions of the country’s constitution.

“I appealed to the court for his bail and also appealed for his release from the one-year punishment,” said Gomes. “I hope that the honorable court will consider his case, because he is an innocent man and a victim of circumstances. The offense for which he is convicted is bailable.”

The Bangladeshi constitution provides the right for anyone to propagate their religion subject to law, but authorities and communities often objected to efforts to convert people from Islam, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2010 International Religious Freedom report.

Every year several million male Muslims – women are not allowed – attend the event to pray and listen to Islamic scholars from around the world. Some 9,000 foreigners from 108 countries reportedly attended the event, but most of the worshippers are rural Bangladeshis. About 15,000 security personnel were deployed to maintain order.

Bangladeshi Muslims equate the annual event with the Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This year the Bangladesh event was held in two phases, Jan 21-23 and Jan. 28-30.

Jagadish Edward, academic dean of Gloria Theological Seminary in Dhaka, told Compass that Marandi had engaged in evangelical work after completing three years at the seminary in 2005. Marandi had come to Dhaka from northern Thakurgaon district some 400 kilometers (249 miles) away.

“He was very polite and gentle,” said Edward. “As an evangelist, he knew how to respect other religions. I was really surprised when I heard he was arrested and sentenced for one year.”

At the same event in 2009, Muslim pilgrims beat and threatened to kill another Bible school student as he distributed Christian literature. A patrolling Rapid Action Battalion elite force rescued Rajen Murmo, then 20, a student at Believers’ Church Bible College, on Feb. 1, 2009.

Bangladesh is the world’s third-largest Muslim-majority nation, with Muslims making up 89 percent of its population of 164.4 million, according to Operation World. Christians are less than 1 percent of the total, and Hindus 9 percent.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org

AZERBAIJAN TO FURTHER RESTRICT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM


Azerbaijan’s wide-ranging religious literature censorship system has started to affect evangelical leaders in the country, reports MNN.

Vice President of Russian Ministries Sergey Rakhuba was just in the country and says, “Two Baptist pastors were traveling between neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan — authorities confiscated Azerbaijani Bibles.”

According to Forum 18 News, an official of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations said, “Our society doesn’t need books that don’t suit our laws and our beliefs.” He claimed that unspecified religious literature could cause unspecified “social harm and possibly inter-religious and inter-ethnic violence.”

Rakhuba says an amendment allowing strict censorship will be heading for a referendum this month. He says believers may face raids reminiscent of the Cold War if the censorship issue continues. “Local police will be searching homes of evangelical leaders, and they will take all their Christian literature away from them.”

This will mean little, says Rakhuba. “Basically there is a dictatorship in Azerbaijan,” he says.

Russian Ministries works to empower the national evangelical church. They intend to do that despite the persecution. “We’re very much considering and praying and evaluating our resources to see how we can start our School Without Walls program for the next academic year in the fall.”

School without Walls is a program that helps train next generation church leaders, and Rakhuba says their work must continue. “The church is not scared. The church is growing. The church needs a lot more support to continue their ministry in the circumstances like that.”

Support comes in the form of prayer and dollars. Rakhuba says financial support is wide ranging. “The church needs support for training resources, to have more Bibles, to have more Christian literature. All of this is not allowed there, but they know how to smuggle it to Azerbaijan and make it available.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

GHANA’S PRESIDENT ORDERS SCHOOLS TO REINTRODUCE RELIGIOUS EDUCATION


President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana has instructed authorities of basic schools in the country to revisit the teaching of Religious and Moral Education (RME), which hitherto had been removed from the syllabus, reports Daniel Abugah, special to ASSIST News Service.

President Kufuor made the call when he addressed school children at the country’s 51st Independence Day celebration. The call was in response to persistent calls made particularly by Christians and Muslims for reintroduction of the subject in the schools’ curricular.

The president expressed displeasure about the negative moral impact of globalization on the youth through the mass media. He therefore urged the school children to balance their academic learning with that of their moral duty.

“The television, the Internet and other modern gadgetry undermine cultures and moral values. The result is that humanity is already confronted with the challenge of a serious split between knowledge and morality. Unless mankind finds a way to overcome this challenge, there is a real danger of it becoming less than human.

It is for this reason that government has decided to revisit the reinstatement of Religious and Moral Education in the school curriculum”, President Kufour told the students. He added that no matter the academic and professional acclode they achieved, the best education in the end is the one that would enable them to appreciate the common dignity of man; stand up for what is right and be each other’s keeper.

The general secretary of the Christian Council of Ghana, Rev. Dr. Fred Degbee in an interview with Radio Ghana commended the action of the president. He said religion and morality were the signal light of the world, and they should be encouraged at every level of society.

Whilst Christians and Muslims embraced the directive of the president to reintroduce the RME into the basic school’s curriculum, a traditional African religious group, the Africanian Mission, did not see the idea as good news. For them the teaching of RME would promote foreign culture at the expense of African values.

RME which was introduced into the syllabus of Upper Primary and Junior Secondary Schools (now Junior High School) some years ago, aimed to encourage the sense of moral values among school children in the country. But it was removed last year as a result of new educational reforms in the country.

Report from the Christian Telegraph

ACADEMIC: ‘FAITH-BASED’ PARTIES HAVE LITTLE CHANCE IN NEW ZEALAND


After New Zealand’s prime minister, Helen Clark announced a general election for 8 November, several “faith-based” political parties have said they will contest the poll, reports Ecumenical News International.

Still, one political observer has suggested the increased number of Christian parties will splinter the faith-based vote, and limit any chance of parliamentary success for them.

Raymond Miller, political studies professor at Auckland University, told a New Zealand church magazine earlier this year that the ambition of a host of Christian-based political parties “did not match reality”.

Miller said the formation of three Christian parties – the United Future Party, the Family Party and the Kiwi Party – would split the conservative Christian vote.

Report from the Christian Telegraph