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Would McAleese be guilty of “hate speech” for Church remarks?

It’s no secret that basically the entire Irish political establishment supports the proposed “hate crime” bill currently making its way through the Oireachtas.

This bill, as well as assigning harsher penalties for traditional crimes against certain “protected” categories, also makes so-called “hate speech” a criminal offence.

Notably, former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, has voiced support for hate crime legislation in the recent past, and no doubt this includes support for the associated hate speech laws.

And so, how surprising is it then to see the following on Newstalk this week:

“Former President Mary McAleese says churches in Ireland have questions to answer around being ‘conduits for homophobia’.

She was speaking after the deaths of Aidan Moffitt and Michael Snee in Co Sligo.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the LGBT community is ‘very worried’ about what the murders represent.”

McAleese went on:

“We also need to have the kind of debate about where does this hatred come from? What keeps it going? What fails to challenge it?

“And I still think, regrettably, that in a country where religion plays a very, very, very big role and is a huge key influencer of attitudes, I think the churches – and I’m not just talking about the Catholic church, I’m talking about all the major denominations – because all of them are conduits for homophobia.

“They all have questions to ask about whether or not, and to what extent, they have been conduits for hatred”.

So, to be clear, a number of LGBT individuals are horrifically and brutally murdered in their homes by an unknown assailant. We don’t yet know who killed them – the courts and authorities will have to investigate that, as is the norm in our system.

But so far, the only man arrested and charged is believed to be of middle eastern descent. We have zero evidence to suggest that he is or ever was a Christian, or that any Christian was involved in this incident whatsoever.

And yet McAleese’s takeaway from this situation seems to be that this is another opportunity to give Christianity a dig.

This is far from the first time she’s made inflammatory remarks of this nature as well. She’s said that Catholic teachings on certain matters are “intrinsically evil” and described the Church as an “empire of misogyny” in the past.

However, while it’s obviously tasteless, disrespectful and insipid to try and use the brutal murder of two men to bash an unrelated religion you dislike, could comments like this have more serious implications? Could they, in a certain context, be perceived as “hate speech” if Ireland had such laws?

Looking at the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Hate Crime) Bill 2021, we find that religion is one of the protected characteristics listed in the proposed legislation.

Under “Incitement to Hatred”, the bill reads:

“A person is guilty of an offence who: communicates to the public or a section of the public by any means, for the purpose of inciting, or being reckless as to whether such communication will incite, hatred against another person or group of people due to their real or perceived association with a protected characteristic.”

Could one not at least argue that McAleese’s remarks about Christianity meet this definition?

At a time when emotions are running extremely high nationwide, with an outpouring of sympathy and support for LGBT individuals, McAleese decides, without basis, to throw out there on the national airwaves that Christian churches are “conduits of homophobia and hatred” and imply that the Christian religion’s influence on culture may contribute to gay people being brutally murdered.

It’s not difficult to imagine how this could easily incite hatred in the general population against Christians and religious people.

One could theoretically argue that this type of rhetoric in Canada led to churches being burned across the country last year.

Whether it was McAleese’s intent to stir up hatred against Christians as a group or not, the legislation says being careless can constitute incitement as well.

And so, it is at least worth wondering: would Mary McAleese be found guilty of hate speech and incitement to hatred under the government’s outlined definition?

To be clear, I don’t believe in hate speech laws. I would not want to see McAleese getting a visit from the Gardaí over these remarks, as odious and personally insulting as I find them. She has every legal right to say what she believes, no matter how foolish or ill advised her views are.

But why are such comments viewed as completely acceptable, and why do they receive zero pushback from anyone in authority? Why are the same people who lecture us constantly on the need for “hate speech” laws to protect people happy to ignore outrageous comments of this nature?

What incidents like this should tell us is, hate speech laws, as we suspected, have nothing at all to do with preventing horrible comments and generalisations being said about protected groups. They have everything to do with silencing people with the wrong views from criticising certain groups or ideas.

The sooner people start to understand how lopsided and asymmetrical the enforcement of such laws are sure to be, the better.

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