Free Speech and how Christianity in Ireland will be persecuted under Hate Speech Laws

Free Speech and how Christianity in Ireland will be persecuted under Hate Speech Laws

Ireland’s hate speech bill has garnered international attention from critics who argue it will impede on free expression and debate.

Home to a multitude of big tech headquarters such as Meta and Twitter or X Irish domestic legislation will have major international repercussions for public participation on the internet and for society as a whole.

The bill has passed the Dáil and is currently stalled in the Irish Seanad following opposition from various members of the upper house.

Critics have pointed out the lack of a definition for what constitutes hate in the bill could see a subjectivity applied in determining prosecutions as well as other worrying elements such as members of An Garda Siochana being given the power to raid the home of a person suspected of being in possession of so-called hateful material.

It’s within this context that the Christian legal advocacy group the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF) alongside the Irish grassroots organisation Free Speech Ireland (FSI) held a Free Speech Summit in Trinity College Dublin last week to “gather Irish politicians and high-profile free speech advocates from across the West to raise awareness about the importance of free speech and threats to this fundamental right.”

The event saw over 200 people gather in Trinity’s Thomas Davis theatre to listen to an array of international and domestic speakers.

Guest speakers included the high profile American journalist Andy Ngo and the author Michael Shellenberger as well as the co-creator of 90s Irish sitcom Father Ted and outspoken trans-critic Graham Linehan.

Other guests included The Catholic Herald’s Laura Perrins and former GB News host and priest Calvin Robinson.

Schellenberger has long been interested in Ireland’s hate speech bill.

As one of the authors of the ‘Twitter files’, which revealed a left-wing bias within the company prior to Elon Musk’s takeover, he has long been an advocate for free expression and against attempts by governments and social media conglomerates to silence critics.

He kicked off a series of speeches by arguing that elites, not the general public, drive the desire for censorship while also mentioning the increasing power of tech companies and governments to control information and monitor citizens’ activities.

He mentioned that he had been sarcastically asking people around Dublin if they are experiencing a “hate crisis.”

“There’s less hate of racial and sexual minorities than we’ve ever had in Ireland,” he was told.

He noted that while “violence has declined precipitously over the years” in Ireland “somebody wants the power to censor speech they don’t like… and wants to control what you’re allowed to say… maybe picking a small country where all these high tech companies are as a way to create a backdoor into censorship.”

Schellenberger seems to think the Irish won’t take such draconian legislation lying down: the Irish have a “rebellious spirit… you do not want to be slaves.”

Andy Ngo, another US-based writer who has written for the New York Post among others, has similarly plunged himself into Ireland’s free speech culture war.

As someone who has highlighted egregious attempts to silence free expression in the name of ‘Anti Fascism’, or Antifa for short, Ngo has a warning for Ireland that if such a conference were to take place in America, “It would would be stopped by radical extremists who wear masks, who will come in with bats and smash up the building, and/or threaten the establishment or set it on fire the night before.”

Ngo said that people who get assaulted rarely receive justice as the assailants are covered head to toe: “Rinse and repeat that over and over and you’ll have a population who eventually stop speaking out.”

On a happier note he mentioned that, “This is the first time I’ve actually been able to speak in person, live at a university.”

Legal Counsel for ADF Barrister Lorcan Price provided a lucid analysis into the legal intricacies surrounding the proposed legislation.

Over the years, Lorcan has had firsthand experience of litigating freedom of speech cases in Strasbourg. But despite the freedom of expression protections afforded to Irish people under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) Ireland is not immune to “creeping censorship.”

Ireland’s existing incitement to hatred act which dates from 1989 has only seen 44 convictions from 2000-2020 when, according to Price, “Ireland went through an extraordinary demographic and social change.”

Instead of being used against those motivated by racial animus such legislation may target those of a religious disposition.

Price highlighted the case of Päive Räsänen who was prosecuted for posting a Bible verse on X in 2019.

Räsänen, a Finnish politician, posted the verse after tweeting about why the Finnish Lutheran Church should not endorse the Helsinki pride parade.

Ironically, she was charged with legislation that she had voted for in the Finnish Parliament.

“And it wasn’t just the tweet, they then went back and found a pamphlet she had written 20 years ago on the Christian conception of marriage and they added that to the chart as well.”

Räsänen, Price said, “faces a conviction and a hefty fine for a tweet and something she had written 20 years ago.”

According to ADF’s website, “If this type of prosecution took place in Ireland, she could be prosecuted for simply possessing the pamphlet she wrote for her church congregation on the biblical definition of marriage, even if it was never published online.”

Price highlighted the cross-border censoriousness of such legislation which has seen a priest in Spain prosecuted for expressing similar views about pride month.

Another speaker worried about the implications for religious liberty is Father Calvin Robinson.

As a priest in the old Nordic Catholic Church and previously a deacon in the Free Church of England, an Anglican denomination, Calvinson knows better than anyone the perils of cancel culture.

Having been cancelled by GB News and the Church of England Robinson has bounced back.

He touched on the broader “woke” environment that dictates such a piece of legislation as “not a perversion of Christianity” but “an inversion of Christianity.”

According to Robinson, “If you strip Christ out that will leave a vacuum and nature abhors a vacuum so that void will be filled with something else… and ‘woke’ has filled that void.”

GB News host Andrew Doyle, who gained international acclaim for his pseudonymous Twitter handle Titania McGrath which mocked social justice advocates, described woke as an “enduring appeal to authoritarianism.”

Robinson also touched on other worrying developments such as the criminalising of “silent prayer” outside abortion clinics in the U.K. which involves, “People being arrested and persecuted for being Christians in a Christian country.”

“We now have instances of four people being arrested for being in an area, not outside the abortion centre but in a general area of it, standing there, doing nothing, saying nothing, just standing there, not protesting, not harassing, but just praying to their creator.”

Similar legislation to criminalise prayer outside abortion clinics, so-called Safe Access Zones, passed all stages of the Dáil late last year and is currently awaiting a sign-off from President Michael D. Higgins.

Speaking to the Irish Catholic after the event Robinson said that, “The West is intolerant of Christianity and their intolerance is becoming persecution and bill’s like this [The hate speech bill] will see Christians persecuted.”

Laura Perrins of the Catholic Herald echoed these sentiments by noting the flipping of Christian social teaching surrounding compassion which is now used to promote hate speech legislation.

“What they are doing is targeting the weak; those who may be confused about their gender… unborn children in the womb, babies in nurseries… because people have a natural instinct because of the Christian foundation to protect the weak so they have manipulated that quite effectively.”

She also compared the legislation with the blasphemy statutes of the past.

Two Irish representatives in the room included Senators Rónán Mullen and Sharon Keoghan who are very outspoken on the legislation within the upper house.

Senator Mullen highlighted that while he is not concerned about prosecution under the legislation, “the process itself is the punishment.”

He said that it’s not politicians who will be targeted but rather “people who haven’t been trained up in the art of advocacy to any extent who may be a bit clumsy in the way they want to express their disquiet or concern.”

Senator Keoghan echoed this by saying that, “This law is going to be have a chilling effect on the ordinary man and woman here in Ireland for those who may not have the same ideas or those who may not be in favor of the government of the day.”

She exclaimed how she is “proud to be a mother… and I don’t see why I should not be able to say those things.”