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Freedom Of Expression Protects Right To Burn Israeli Flag

At recent protests in Auckland denouncing conflict in the Middle East, protestors burned an Israeli flag. This action has been met with some condemnation, and several Police complaints have been laid. The Free Speech Union insists that this action must be protected by the protestors' right to freedom of expression, says Dr David Cumin, Council Member of the Free Speech Union.

"Freedom of expression allows for ideas and beliefs to be communicated openly, without fear of undue constraint. This right should not depend on the validity or justification of the expression. Burning the Israeli flag expresses the strongly held beliefs of some protesters, and it is their legal right to express that.

"Likewise, the response by other citizens, commentators, and even senior politicians condemning this action and characterising it as hateful is legitimate, provided such counter-speech does not transcend into attempts to suppress or censor.

"The Free Speech Union has consistently insisted that we must counter hate as a society (especially hate against minority racial or ethnic groups), and it is not the law's role to regulate speech or expression simply because some deem it hateful. Had "hate speech" laws been successfully amended as proposed by the Government in 2021, it is certain this protest, at which Marama Davidson spoke, would have fallen afoul of those laws.

"It is telling that certain advocates for hate speech laws in the name of 'social cohesion' have recently rediscovered their belief in free speech. It is for unpopular and provocative perspectives that we need free speech and expression, such as burning an Israeli flag. They now present a hypocritical defence of free speech; but even hypocritical speech must remain free.

"Censorship does not make us safer. Suppressing opinions and expression which others perceive as hateful stands to inflame the issue further. For this reason, freedom of speech and expression matter more, not less, during times of strong disagreement. Anti-Israel protesters must be allowed to have their say."

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