Monday, July 23, 2018

On one side is freedom, on the other totalitarianism

It has been interesting watching the reaction of different people to the banning by Auckland Mayor Phil Goff of 'alt-right' commentators Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern from speaking at a Council venue. There has been a heartening groundswell of support from New Zealanders of all political views in favour of the legal action to challenge Goff's decision (of which I am a financial supporter). Unsurprisingly, there has also been plenty of support for Goff's decision, including from some people I would have thought would be more supportive of individual rights - some of whom, if they paused to think about it for a moment, are likely to be next in line to be banned.

I believe that the right to free expression is the bedrock of all other individual rights. It is the most powerful weapon against tyranny and its abrogation is always a necessary element of political repression. Many of those who have supported Goff's decision have argued that there are limits to the rights to freedom of expression and the views held by Molyneux and Southern do not warrant the protection of such rights. But rights are innate and universal and are not granted by any person or government - or they are not rights. And who gets to decide? The people who want to decide are the people we would least want to make such decisions.

Some have argued that that the Auckland Council, as the owner of the venues, has the right to determine who says what on its property and that freedom of expression doesn't extend to the right to be provided with a platform. I agree that this is correct in the case of private property, but in the case of public property the denial of a platform is the denial of free speech itself. The Auckland mayor's action in respect of Molyneux and Southern is no different to banning them from speaking on a street corner or a public park. There is no freedom of expression if it doesn't apply to a public place. Of course, no one is arguing that a city hall should be open to all comers at all times at no cost, but the reason Goff gave for denying the facility to Moyneux and Southern was the unacceptability of their views. It would be sad day indeed when only those views that in Goff's opinion 'unite' Aucklanders were allowed to be expressed at Council venues.

The court action against Goff and the Auckland City Council has gained international attention and will be seen as a weathervane of this country's respect for individual liberties and rights. Make no mistake, this is the most important issue of our time. On one side is freedom, on the other side, totalitarianism. Pick your side.

No comments: