Judith Collins welcomed as Free Speech Union's newest member

The Free Speech Union is pleased to welcome aboard its newest member, National Party Leader, the Hon Judith Collins, and believe it is the first time a serving leader of the National Party has joined a registered trade union.

Since our launch a few weeks ago, hundreds of New Zealanders have signed up to our trade union to promote free speech. We welcome the Leader of the Opposition, as we will every MP who subscribes to our values.

As far as we know, this is the first time a serving National Party leader has ever been a member of a registered trade union. Traditionally, it has been left-wing unions who fought for the idea that employees are not servants 24/7 - that what you do and say in your private life is of no business to employers. That’s the value we need to reestablish, and something we encourage other unions to reassert.

Whether it be ‘values’, overreaching ‘codes of conduct' or ‘health and safety' excuses - employers cannot force employees to subscribe to political views. That’s why we created this trade union to protect freedom of speech.

Even for politicians, freedom of speech is under threat. Private American owned corporates are blocking what our political parties can say online, MPs are still subject to the ‘Waka Jumping laws’ - which can see list MPs sacked for not towing the Party line - and in local government, some councils are asserting that elected officials are only allowed to talk to the media with permission from council officers."

It’s time to return to freedom of speech being the default. We can’t have a healthy democracy without people being willing to disagree respectfully, and promoting tolerance - even accepting the risk of being offended.

Ms Colin’s politics do not align with many members of our Union Council. But that is the point of free speech, isn’t it?

Politicians of all political stripes are encouraged to stand for free speech, and join the Free Speech Union at www.fsu.nz/join


Lee Williams - Westpac did WHAT?

We've had a number of enquiries over recent weeks about events involving controversial YouTuber Lee Williams (no relation) – who first came to our attention after media reported on apparent "white supremacist statements" and a campaign by the Twitter "community" to have Mr Williams sacked and more.

I saw a few minutes of a clip in which he mocks one of the Maori Party Co-leaders. I personally found it unsophisticated and offensive, but free speech advocacy will always mean defending views you yourself may find objectionable. I would’ve appreciated the opportunity to view more of Mr. Williams material but, as many of you are aware, YouTube has removed his videos.

Our Union was also contacted by Mr Williams some weeks ago via Facebook. I went back and asked some questions. That is standard. We need to assess the risk of being blindsided with properly unlawful expression. The response I got was a link to another video (long, and not related to the questions I was asking). We waited for answers. We do not consider going into bat for someone’s rights without trying to know the low-water mark of what will be disclosed in response. Those we assist have an obligation to help us protect and strengthen the Union’s reputation.

So, any further action couldn’t progress. If we had been properly satisfied, we would’ve most likely partnered Mr Williams with an employment lawyer. But nevertheless, I was shocked to subsequently learn that Westpac had apparently revoked Lee Williams' bank accounts (and will refuse to provide any banking services whatsoever from the end of the month) because Mr Williams was giving his account details out so that people can fund his defence. 

This development is of serious concern to the Free Speech Union for two major reasons.

Even if Mr Williams was deservedly as unpopular as his opponent’s paint, it is deeply unsettling that a foreign bank feels entitled to withdraw services on the basis of an online campaign to, effectively, ruin this man's life because of his political opinions. The least the bank might want to do is respect NZ law which forbids discrimination in the provision of services, on the basis of political opinion. If we were to mount no challenge to this, it could set a seriously worrying precedent.

It's also a potential recipe for disaster. If Mr Williams really is 'far right', a conspiracy theorist, or at risk of ‘acting out’ inspired by an extreme ideology (as the Twitter mob claims), what better way to send someone over the edge than by removing him from the internet, culling his job, and now even his access to banking services? The behaviour of the mob in this case could very well be creating a security threat. If we allow them to get into the habit of this style of harassment, we may end up seeing tragedy.

So, we decided to act. I was asked to prepare a letter to Westpac asking for clarification, but our recent support for ‘Speak Up for Women’ meant that the letter sat on my desk for a few weeks in draft form. But it is now sent. In my emailed cover note to CEO Simon Power, I gave the bank a week for a response before we would make a public comment (over and above to our supporters, on this website) or speak to the media about Westpac's behaviour.  

In defending free speech, we are never defending individuals but arguably the central liberal principle. I shared my own views on Mr Williams material, but ultimately my personal views are immaterial to the defence of free speech. If activists have the power to close their political opponents' bank accounts and prevent them from supporting themselves, this is a development that will have disastrous consequences for this country. After mounting a successful "campaign", who will they have their sights on tomorrow?

Obviously, we need more facts from Westpac, and should have them soon. When we do, we will report back to you. If we are confident the closing of these accounts is discriminatory, we will fight it for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

Update: A supporter has flagged this piece of PR put out by Westpac: Westpac offers bank accounts to help newly-released prisoners re-integrate into societySo Westpac are actively helping (and rightly so) convicted criminals reintegrate into society yet are doing the opposite for Lee Williams who is guilty of saying stupid things. 


Joint Media Release: Speak Up For Women wins free speech case

Joint media release issued by the Free Speech Union and Speak Up for Women

Today, Justice Gerald Nation granted Speak UP for Women interim relief against Palmerston North City Council, meaning their meeting to discuss the controversial sex self-identification clauses within the Births, Death, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill will go ahead tonight in the Palmerston North Central Library at 6:30pm as planned.

In handing down the decision, Justice Nation noted: "Having considered the evidence and submissions of counsel, the Court grants the applicant the relief sought and makes an order that the licence to occupy created by the agreement to hire the mezzanine meeting space at the Palmerston North City Library between 6.30 pm and 8.00 pm on 25 June 2021 continues in force. Reasons will follow in due course."

Speak Up For Women had also issued proceedings seeking an order that Auckland Council allow a booking for the Ellen Melville Centre on Sunday to proceed, for a similar meeting to be held. During the legal proceedings, it was disclosed by Auckland Council that they had identified a unique critical risk with the event proceeding at that location. Given this risk, Speak Up For Women agreed to the offer of a new location, and Auckland Council agreed to make a Public Statement which will be released before 5 PM today.

The event in Auckland will now be held in a room within the Council owned Town Hall complex at the original time and date of 6:30pm on Sunday 27 June.

"This case was important as it vindicates our group - believing that biological sex matters and should not be replaced by the idea of ‘gender identity’ in law is worthy of respect in a democratic society, and so entitled to protection under the right to freedom of expression" says Beth Johnson, spokeswoman for Speak Up For Women.

In the hearing, counsel for both Auckland and Palmerston North City Councils acknowledged that it was neither Councils’ position that the case was about "hate speech".

Rachel Poulain from Free Speech Union says "we’re delighted by this result - it’s a win for free speech in New Zealand, at least when it comes to Councils trying to deplatform views or groups they don’t like."

Ms Johnson says: "As we are a grass-roots women’s group made up of volunteers, our funding comes solely from small donations. With the help of the Free Speech Union, we are crowdfunding to cover our legal costs. We hope to find support beyond feminist circles from New Zealanders who value freedom of speech as we do and who share our concerns about censorious public officials bowing to pressure from activists.

New Zealanders who wish to support this effort to stand for free speech are encouraged to donate to the litigation fund at www.fsu.nz/speak_up or to 06-0323-0706649-01. Donations to the fund will remain confidential to Speak Up for Women and the Free Speech Union.

ENDS

UPDATE: The Judge’s reasons have now been issued and available to read here.


Hate speech laws will not make NZ a safer and more tolerant society

Media release from the Free Speech Union

The Free Speech Union is reacting with concern to the Government's plan to make speech criminal and says the proposals will go no way towards making New Zealand a safer and more tolerant society.

The law would change so that a person who intentionally incites, stirs up, maintains or normalises hatred against any protected group of people, would be liable for up to three years in prison if they did so by being threatening, abusive or even insulting.

Spokesperson for Union, David Cumin says, "The government claims these changes to hate speech laws will promote social cohesion. The opposite is true - legislating hatred out of existence is a hopeless expectation. What's more, the government is yet to provide examples of the speech they intend these provisions to capture."

"The ambiguity of certain words in the legislation such as ‘insulting’ imports a real risk that speech may fall within the ambit for prosecution that was never intended to be criminalised by those envisioning the proposals."

"Free speech has to mean the ability to insult. Democracy can’t work if the powers at be can deem certain arguments or speech as illegal."

"Alarmingly, being found guilty of hate speech would carry a higher penalty than some violent offences. In any event, a lengthy prison sentence is unlikely to be the best mechanism to make an intolerant person rethink their views, if anything, it will push them into dark corners that would make violence a more tangible possibility."

"New Zealanders should prepare for the very real possibility that those who take offence to tweets, crass statements or unsavoury protests will run to law-enforcement to have their offence indulged. The Union has already been contacted by members of Police concerned about having to enforce these proposals. While the ambit for successful prosecution may be high, overseas experience has shown that the introduction of such laws has resulted in law enforcement consistently missing the mark, and has created a structure allowing for legal harassment of the state against citizens, even if they are ultimately found not guilty."

"The Free Speech Union will be fighting these proposals and invite all Kiwis who value this human right to join us."

ENDS

 


Speak Up For Women file proceedings against Auckland Council

Today, representatives from Speak Up For Women filed proceedings against the Auckland and Palmerston North Councils, following the cancellation of room bookings for public events that were to go ahead later this week. Nicolette Levy QC will be acting on the group’s behalf, with the support of the Free Speech Union.
 

The events were to discuss controversial sex self-identification clauses within the Births, Deaths, Marriages, Relationships, Registration Bill which is currently before Parliament. 
 
In Auckland, Speak Up For Women was banned from the Pioneer Women’s Hall in the CBD, because the Council thought the views likely to be expressed may cause harm to staff and other users of the facility – even if they are not physically present at the venue or event.
 
“We are particularly hurt by the reasoning given by Auckland Council. In effect they are saying that our views would ‘contaminate’ the venue. But feminism has a strong history of challenging comfortable views, or even official orthodoxy.” says Speak Up For Women spokesperson Beth Johnson. 
 
Rachel Poulain, from the Free Speech Union, says: “We believe the law is on Speak Up For Women’s side – but the practical challenge is getting to Court to force the Councils to comply. The Court of Appeal was recently clear that Councils must give due regard to freedom of speech. In the UK, a court recently ruled that gender critical views, such as those held by Speak Up For Women, are valid and deserve respect and tolerance.” 
 
“Our Union takes no view on gender identity or transgender issues, but we are supporting this legal action because it is an issue of freedom of speech and association. It is clear public servants are ignoring their legal duties to uphold freedom of speech and avoid political discrimination.  The irony of Auckland Council blocking a feminist group from speaking at a feminist venue is demonstrative of how little they appear to regard the rights of citizens.”
 
“The decision-making processes of council representatives should not be influenced by their own politics nor by a few noisy activists or the social media mob. It is clear local council are exploiting the difficulty and expense of enforcing the law, despite what the Court of Appeal has said. Councils are trying to ignore it. That’s why we’re asking New Zealanders to support us in defending democracy, by ensuring town halls respect freedom of speech.”
 
Ms Johnson says: “As we are a grass-roots women’s group made up of volunteers, our funding comes solely from small donations. With the help of the Free Speech Union, we are crowdfunding to cover our legal costs. We hope to find support beyond feminist circles from New Zealanders who value freedom of speech as we do and who share our concerns about censorious public officials bowing to pressure from activists.
 
New Zealanders who wish to support this effort to stand for free speech are encouraged to donate to the litigation fund at www.fsu.nz/speak_up or to 06-0323-0706649-01. Donations to the fund will remain confidential to Speak Up for Women and the Free Speech Union.


Transcript of Interview with Speak Up For Women

TRANSCRIPT: Free Speech Union Podcast interview with Beth Johnson, Spokeswoman for Speak Up For Women, June 7 2021

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Free Speech Round Up: Mighty Ape | The n-word | JK Rowling coverage

Thanks for standing with the Free Speech Union and our cause for free speech. Since our launch on Wednesday, hundreds of New Zealanders have joined our new union.

Why New Zealand needs a Free Speech Union

Our Spokesman, Dr David Cumin joined Peter Williams on Magic Talk on the launch of the new Free Speech Union and why it's needed. Click here to have a listen.

Remember that this effort is 100 percent powered by people like you. To join the Free Speech Union click here, or donate here.

Mighty Ape pulls 'transphobic' books from sale after targeting by online mob

On Monday the Free Speech Union wrote a public letter to online bookseller Mighty Ape asking its founder to reverse the decision to ban books on transgender issues.

On Saturday Stuff reported on the new ban:

Transgender Kiwis have accused retailers Paper Plus and Mighty Ape of selling “transphobic” books, which describe being transgender as a mental illness.

The books in question are Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing our Daughters by Abigail Shrier and When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment by Ryan T. Anderson.

Both books examine the notion of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD), a term coined by an American professor in 2016 to describe an alleged epidemic of youth coming out as trans due to social contagion and mental illness.

Cerian Rees was one of a number of people who sent emails to Paper Plus and Mighty Ape expressing concern over the books.

Rees said the books spread lies and misinformation about transgender people, and could be used to justify bigotry or harassment towards the community.

“One of the main lies pushed is the notion of ‘rapid onset dysphoria’, which is made up pseudoscience that anti-trans lobbies use to attack vulnerable youth.

“I would hate to be a trans kid who came across these books on a shelf, or even worse, my parents buying one and letting it guide them on how to treat me,” Rees said. […]

Waikato University psychology lecturer Dr Jaimie Veale said books like those promoted fear and hatred of transgender people.

“This puts us at serious risk of worsening this stigma, discrimination, and violence. I haven’t read these books, but I can see with a title like ‘the transgender craze seducing our daughters’ that this sort of work is clearly designed to promote fear, hatred, and extremist anti-transgender views, at an already marginalised group,” Veale said.

“I’m also aware that there are publications similar to these that promote potentially harmful conspiracy theories about trans people being a product of the medical community.”

A spokesman for OutLine, a rainbow mental health organisation, said it was “disappointing” to see books like this advertised for sale. […]

Mighty Ape said books on its site were automatically imported from Nielsen’s BookData database, which compiled books that had been published publicly.

“While we do try to monitor this as much as we can, due to the sheer volume of books published each year, some material we would not typically be comfortable selling can slip through the cracks,” it said in a statement.

“I have notified our books product manager, and both books have now been removed from our website. I sincerely apologise for any hurt or disappointment this may have caused.”

At the time of publication, both books had been pulled from Mighty Ape.

Mighty Ape's decision shows contempt towards New Zealanders and our ability to arrive at informed opinions.

The point of non-fiction is to have an exchange of ideas that can extend our knowledge. The avenue for criticism should not be ignorant calls to ban but thought-provoking reviews and counterarguments. The right to examine ideas and critique them is the bedrock of an open, diverse, and tolerant society.

Allowing veto by threat over which books we may be permitted to read is not acceptable, and is what one expects of an authoritarian anti-democratic regime, not from a major bookseller.

As for the Waikato University lecturer quoted in support of the ban, she is literally judging a book by its cover. For an academic to claim a text ‘promotes fear and hatred of transgender people’ when she hasn’t even read the text, is pathetic.

The full text of our public letter is available on our website.

If our would-be censors can send emails of complaint, so can we!

If you agree that booksellers shouldn't give in to the online mob, feel free to also send a note to Mighty Ape's founder by email.

>> click here for a customisable template <<

Should universities be scared of the N-word?

A University of Waikato professor has apologised after saying the n-word during a lecture, as part of a discussion about the reclamation of offensive terms.

According to the NZ Herald:

The University of Waikato professor was teaching a lecture on representation and reclaiming terms when she said the racial slur out loud.

The teacher says she believed some students might not know what word was being referred to unless it was uttered in full. She later apologised to two students who complained, as well as to the class.

One of the students, who spoke to the Herald, said while she believed the apology to be sincere she was shocked anyone felt comfortable uttering the n-word in 2021, regardless of context.

That student - who is Fijian - had been called the slur many times in her life, but had realised that despite her own skin colour she should not use the term "because I am not ancestrally linked to slavery in the Americas or the Caribbean".

"It did offend me that she thought it was okay to say it, especially her being a white woman." […]

The Fijian student and another student complained and the professor apologised to both individually. She also posted an apology to an online student forum.

"I am deeply sorry for any hurt this may have caused. I had not wanted to assume that everyone in the class understood the term and so attempted to provide context but in retrospect, I realise I did this very poorly.

"In trying to get the point across that it absolutely does matter 'who' uses 'reclaimed terms', I inadvertently deeply offended some. Again, please accept my most sincere apology."

But he acknowledged the context in which the incident took place – a university lecture room, where robust debate was encouraged.

Last year, Auckland's Lynfield College said it would censor racial slurs from teaching materials, after a student filmed a teacher using the n-word while reading a passage from a book.

The school told teachers they should no longer say a word that represented "condensed generations of pain".

This is getting ridiculous. We are sorry students might be offended, but no words should be off-limits for discussion at a university. Context is everything and there’s absolutely no sign of bad faith here. Academics should not be forced to apologise because students find a topic offensive. If so, our universities are doomed.

Credit where credit is due, even Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon now acknowledges context is important. In this instance, he refused to criticise the academic. Good.

Wairarapa's JK Rowling ban getting international coverage (for all the wrong reasons)

You’ll recall a few weeks ago we told you about the Harry Potter quiz being cancelled at a Wairarapa book festival, which was set to examine modern “cancel culture”, because of JK Rowling’s views on transgender issues.

We told our friends at the UK Free Speech Union, who gave the story to the Times of London (subscription required).

A literary festival in New Zealand has cancelled plans for a Harry Potter-themed event because of JK Rowling’s comments on gender issues.

Peter Biggs, chairman of the Wairarapa book festival, reportedly decided to drop the annual children’s quiz after consultations with the LGBTQ community.

Seven Harry Potter novels and a multibillion-pound film franchise helped make Rowling, 55, the most famous author in the world, but she has faced stern criticism since expressing her views on whether men who identify as women are the same as biological females. […]

Toby Young, the founder of the Free Speech Union, which is due to open its first branch in New Zealand next week, said: “JK Rowling is one of Britain’s most influential and respectable contemporary writers.

“This is why the decision by the Wairarapa book festival to cancel a children’s Harry Potter quiz because of comments JK Rowling made during an important debate on women’s-only spaces is chilling.

“If the creator of our most successful export since James Bond can be declared persona non grata, anyone can.”

Speaking of the UK group, a couple of items from their last update caught our eye as being just as relevant to New Zealand:

Political speech should never be compelled

Freedom to speak your mind is essential in a democracy, but free speech also means “the right not to be legally forced to engage in political speech”, argues Spencer Case in Arc Digital. In universities, corporations and organisations of all types, people now feel compelled to sign petitions they don’t agree with, and, in some cases, sign loyalty oaths that are far more draconian than the ones people were forced to sign during the McCarthy era.

The roots of cancel culture

Historian Tom Holland argues that Christian ideals remain at the heart of modern culture war battles, while journalist Malcolm Gladwell says a failure to understand and offer forgiveness is at the heart of modern cancel culture: “Cancel culture is what happens when you have a generation of people who are not raised with a Christian ethic of forgiveness.” Christopher Schelin compares the phenomenon to “old-fashioned church discipline”. It’s certainly not new, writes Raymond Keene in the Article, comparing modern woke witch-hunts to purges carried out by the Romans and ancient Chinese.

Wherever it comes from, cancel culture sucks, says Suzanne Harrington in the Irish Examiner. Musician Glenn Danzig warns that it will stop another “punk explosion”. He told NME, “There won’t be any new bands coming out like that. Now, they will immediately get cancelled.”

Free Speech Union's submission on the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill

Finally in this update, last week we submitted on the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill. If passed, the Bill would create a 150-metre perimeter outside healthcare services, in which no one could intimidate, interfere with or obstruct a person entering the clinic. You can read the transcript of the presentation I gave to the select committee here.

Thank you for your support.

Dane Giraud

Dane Giraud
Spokesperson
Free Speech Union

 


Mighty Ape’s book bans show contempt toward Kiwis

The Free Speech Union says Mighty Ape’s decision to ban books on trans gender issues shows contempt towards New Zealanders and our ability to arrive at informed opinions.  It has today written a public letter to the company’s founder calling for the decision to be reversed.

The point of non-fiction is to have an exchange of ideas which can extend our knowledge. The avenue for criticism should not be ignorant calls to ban but thought-provoking reviews and counterarguments. The right to examine ideas and critique them is the bedrock of an open, diverse, and tolerant society.

Allowing veto by threat over which books we may be permitted to read is not acceptable, and is what one expects of an authoritarian anti-democratic regime, not from major booksellers.

We are amazed to see a Waikato University lecturer quoted publicly in support of the ban, despite acknowledging that she hasn’t even read the books. This is literally judging a book by its cover. For an academic to claim a text ‘promotes fear and hatred of transgender people’ (as was quoted by Stuff) when she hasn’t even read the text, is pathetic.


Free Speech Union's submission on the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill

Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill – hearing of evidence (5 May 2021)

This Member’s bill provides a regulation-making power to set up safe areas around specific abortion facilities on a case-by-case basis.

Presented on behalf of the Free Speech Union by Dane Giraud. Text prepared by Dane Giraud & Patrick Corish.

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New trade union launched to promote free speech

The Free Speech Coalition is relaunching as a trade union under the name “Free Speech Union” and has successfully registered under the Employment Relations Act. 

That name is not ironic. We think it says crisply just what is now needed to defend freedom of speech. We need to stand with people being intimidated, cancelled, de-platformed, piled on by social media, doxxed and threatened with bankruptcy if they seek legal protection.

Becoming a bona fide union is important because defending freedom of speech has come to need the collective solidarity, the mutual support, the kind of activism that made labour unions so important over 100 years ago.

For the last two years, the Free Speech Coalition has been campaigning to prevent the growth of anti-free speech case law and legislation. The Coalition was founded in response to the statements by the Auckland Mayor and actions of his Council in banning two controversial speakers from hosting a talk at a publicly owned venue. The founding members of the Coalition saw the greatest threat to New Zealand’s tolerant and diverse culture of free public discourse as coming directly from the power of the state.

But over the past few years, it has been impossible to ignore the rise of a culture of intolerance of free speech,” says Dr. Cumin. “We have seen it expressed in the increasingly frequent instances of people suffering employment consequences for perfectly legitimate expressions of free speech. The University of Canterbury dragged one of their academics through a lengthy disciplinary process for a paper critical of New Zealand Universities’ connections to the Chinese Government. A high school teacher was doxed by a blogger and investigated by his employer for wearing a MAGA hat at an Auckland BLM rally. An Auckland Transport staffer was harassed and intimidated on social media for a comment on a private Facebook group. 

We’ve seen too many examples of people being ‘shut down’ for controversial views. We must defend the rights of workers to be able to express their personal beliefs without the threat of losing their job. We need to promote a culture of tolerance, including for those we disagree with. A flourishing civil society, where all New Zealander’s feel they can contribute their ideas and engage in robust and even controversial debate, is only possible when employers know that disciplining workers for stepping out of line is not an option.

If you fear being punished by your employer for exercising your right to free speech, if you feel you may be targeted by the media or online mobs for comments expressed in a personal capacity, if a petition could be launched calling for you to be fired; or if you want to help protect those that might be, then join the Free Speech Union today.

New Zealanders who agree with the Union's Statement of Values are encouraged to join, support, or volunteer via www.fsu.nz