Hate speech: Define ‘interest of public policy’

Steven Anderson. Picture: Getty

The government of a free and democratic country has the right and responsibility to refuse entry to people whose presence is deemed unquestionably to be a threat to public order; visitors, for example who pose a problem not because they offer merely unfashionable or controversial political or religious arguments but because they preach violence and hate.

That power under the 1999 Immigration Act has been used for the first time by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to keep an Arizona pastor, Steven Anderson, out of the country. Mr Anderson says he prays for the death of Barack Obama and has advocated the murder of gay people.

These are not radical opinions — they are incitements to murder. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is wisely asking Mr Flanagan to spell out the precise grounds for his decision, announced unhelpfully in the dry language of law that empowers the minister to act in the “interest of public policy”.

The question arises in part because Mr Anderson, persona non grata in Britain, also has form as a Holocaust denier. For sound philosophical reasons, that isn’t a criminal offence in this country, as it isn’t in the UK.

Germany and Austria have an all too obvious basis for their laws making it a punishable offence.

Asked why this is not so here, we would say, firstly, it’s because we are not so dim as to believe the rubbish spewed by deniers and, secondly, that the expedient of silencing them can fuel their absurd conspiracy narratives and shield them from the ridicule they would otherwise attract if they were permitted to speak freely.

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