What is Vilification?


 

This article could have been lifted from Uni. Queensland site and had planned to use it to back-up a blogger, changed the mind. Rather than it turn into cyber dust, will run it with acknowledgements. Seems my by-line is fixed. I couldn’t remove it, yet my technology is limited.

Crucial to any anti-vilification law is the definition of what constitutes vilification. Unfortunately this is not explained in any of the articles announcing this important addition to Queensland law. Nor are any examples given of concrete acts of vilification. As is well known the prosecutions for vilification in the jurisdictions that have such laws are rather rare. So we do not have a lot of examples of the thing that is really proscribed.

No doubt the legal text will contain some definitions. But as with legal terminology what it really comes to mean will depend on court interpretations and decisions. What politicians who enact such laws have to make clear what they mean when they frame these laws in clear and unambiguous terms. Explanation given so far are far from being satisfactory.

Instead of providing a definition of vilification and giving examples of it the defenders of anti-vilification law resort to the expedient of using undefined and clearly value-loaded terms which may mean different things to different persons. The synonyms used clearly have negative value connotations and all the nuances implicit in these terms are surreptitiously ascribed to persons allegedly harbouring tendencies to racial and religious vilification.

A term frequently used as a synonym for vilification is that they are acts of a hateful nature. Thus Premier Beattie speaks of “public forms of racial and religious hatred”. The same terminology is adopted by Rabbi Themal when he speaks of the law prohibiting “public forms of racial and religious hatred”. He also speaks of ethnic and religious communities being worried about “hate material” even though such material if often generated by other ethnic or religious groups.

One would assume that hate is motivation for certain acts and is something different from the acts themselves. It is often difficult to infer the motivation for acts even though the acts themselves can be clearly described. Even self-confessions as to motivation may be intentionally misleading How Premier Beattie and Rabbi Themal have determined that the acts they refer to are motivated by “hate” and not some other motive is not stated. To base legislation on motives and not on clearly defined acts is bad jurisprudence.

Dictionaries do not give much help usually resorting to circular definitions. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the verb to vilify as “to use abusive or slanderous language about or of; calumniate”. This is somewhat better than the hate criterion, but when the specific terms used are looked up they throw up many areas of ambiguity. It must not be thought that reasonable people would object to laws which restrict slander or abuse. In fact laws to that effect have existed for a long time and not created any problem for those concerned with civil rights. It is the attempt to extend this existing body of legislation, and to give special treatment to race and religion that is denied to other human characteristics which can equally be subjected to calumny or abuse that must concern those who argue that anti-vilification laws have a different agenda all of their own.

Libel, slander and defamation have attracted a large body of judicial interpretation even though there is no unanimity in different jurisdictions. In the United States much greater latitude is given to expressions in this regard than is the case in the British legal system. Australian practice seems to follow the British rather than the American system. So laws in this regard as they currently exist here are more restrictive than it is in many other jurisdictions. In this regard any attempt to enlarge the scope of these laws must be undertaken with great care.

In the absence of a clear definition of the terms involved one may (sic)to statements in the racial and religious arenas to which some people have objected.

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