A bill under consideration by the Irish government calls for jailing citizens for possessing material that incites “hatred” by criticizing homosexuality or transgenderism.
The proposed legislation, known as the Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Bill 2022, would make it a criminal offense to say something, or possess material, with the intention to incite harm on a person or group with protected characteristics.
Among the protected characteristics in the bill is sexual orientation.
Under the bill, preparing or possessing material likely to incite “hatred” against persons on account of their protected characteristic could lead to imprisonment for up to five years.
Irish Senator Pauline O’Reilly argued in favor of the bill, heralding it as a means to limit freedom in order to protect the common good.
“When you think about it, all law, all legislation is about the restriction of freedom. That’s exactly what we’re doing here,” O’Reilly said. “We are restricting freedom but we’re doing it for the common good.”
O’Reilly said the bill presents a balanced approach, wherein freedom of speech can be restricted if it causes “deep discomfort” to others.
“If your views on other people’s identities…make their lives unsafe, insecure, and cause them such deep discomfort that they cannot live in peace, then I believe that it is our job, as legislators, to restrict those freedoms for the common good,” O’Reilly said.
The closest the bill comes to defining hatred is when it states hatred “means hatred against a person or a group of persons in the State or elsewhere on account of their protected characteristics or any one of those characteristics.”
Such vague language has raised concerns.
Alexander Hall, writing for Fox News, wrote that the possession of a Bible or a book “about the Bible’s approach to sexual morality could be prosecuted” if the bill becomes law in Ireland.
“While one section, ‘Protection of freedom of expression,’ appears to make assurances that some speech will be protected in exceptional cases,” Hall wrote, “the wording remains vague.”
Twitter CEO Elon Musk called the bill a “massive attack on freedom of speech.”
Helen McEntee, Minister of Justice of Ireland, supports the bill and said that it has been “subject to deliberate misinformation and distortion, including from fringe commentators and U.S.-based social media personalities, whom I don’t need to mention.”
McEntee responded to criticisms by saying that “there will still be an ability for people to offend other people” even if the bill passes.
“This is not about policing people’s thoughts or opinions and genuinely held beliefs,” McEntee said during an interview with Gavan Reilly. “There will still be an ability for people to discuss and to criticise protected characteristics.”
On his show On the Record with Gavan Reilly, Reilly asked McEntee why the bill does not specifically define hatred.
“Hatred was not defined in the previous law because – Gavan if you yourself or anybody listening thinks, ‘Well, what does hatred mean,’ ‘What does it mean to hate somebody’ – I think we all understand what that meaning is,” McEntee responded. “Our courts understand it.”
McEntee said specifically defining hatred could render the bill “unworkable” and the proposed bill specifically targets someone who commits an act with the knowledge that it will “stir up” hatred.
The bill also defines gender as “the gender of a person or the gender which a person expresses as the person’s preferred gender or with which the person identifies and includes transgender and a gender other than those of male and female.”
But McEntee said people would not be prosecuted for intentionally “misgendering” others.
However, if such speech was intentionally done to incite “hatred,” it could lead to prosecution and imprisonment.