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Is Freedom of Speech even more important when you disagree?

Michael Laws: I may dislike - even detest these people. But do I have the right to deny them their freedom of expression?
Michael Laws
Talkback Host and Contributing Writer
May 17th, 2022

OPINION: Two news items that caught my eye overnight – and produced involuntary lip curls – were the failed attempts of Palestinian activists in Wellington to project a protest image on Te Papa … and the quixotic attempt of Wairoa mayor Craig Little to bar ostentatious Mongrel Mob headstones from his local cemetery. 

Now don’t get me wrong. 

I’m the mayor who brought in an anti-gang insignia ban in Wanganui over a decade ago. And I’ve always supported Israel’s right to exist – when most of the liberal Left regarded the Jewish state as some kind of holy terror. 

But if you support freedom of speech, and the right to protest and advance a cause … don’t we have a responsibility to allow those expressions that we most find abhorrent or even intimidating? 

The answer is – yes … and no.

Palestinians protesting on their Nabha Day, weren’t being denied by just Wellington’s mayor Andy Foster. Mr Foster took MFAT’s advice that Israel might be a bit pissed off if the Palestine protest was projected all over New Zealand’s national museum. 

Besides, said MFAT, New Zealand doesn’t recognise Palestine. Which, I have to say, was news to me. 

But the gang headstone issue is easy. There are cemetery guidelines as to gravestones in Wairoa (as there are in most cities & towns) and the Mongrel Mob still erected memorials in glorying their not-so-wonderful dead. 

The Mongrel Mob is a criminal gang. In concert with the Black Power, it’s turned this sleepy Hawkes Bay town into something of a gang battleground this past decade. Letting criminal enterprises parade their wares – whether by insignia or headstone – seems an anti-social exercise to me. 

But … you do question: I may dislike - even detest these people. But do I have the right to deny them their freedom of expression? Now there’s a debate!

Michael Laws is a former MP and Mayor and is now deputy chairman of the Otago Regional Council. He has hosted both radio and TV shows for Radio Pacific, Radio Live and SKY Television. He is an award-winning writer – and has published three bestselling books.