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Hastings District Council cancels Rainbow Storytime, denies right to speak and counterprotest

For the second time in two weeks, a council has cancelled a Rainbow Storytime event. Where threats of violence and disruptions are made, council and Police should respond forcefully, but counterspeech and protest should not be a reason that councils cancel an event, says Jonathan Ayling, Chief Executive of the Free Speech Union.

“Whether you agree with Rainbow Storytime or not, it is a protected form of speech. But so is the right to protest, provided it is peaceful and does not break the law.

“Hastings District Council has claimed that they’ve been ‘forced’ to cancel the event due to two reasons: an escalation of ‘hateful and bigoted rhetoric’ and lack of resource to cover extra security.

“If there are threats of imminent violence, then it is the Council’s prerogative to cancel the event and expect the Police to enforce existing law. But a protest in and of itself does not fit this high bar for legitimate cancellation.

“Not only has Hastings District Council denied Rainbow Storytime’s platform, they’ve denied the opportunity for public protest. If attendees decided not to attend because of the protest, that would be up to them.

“We have written to the Hastings District Council and to the local Police with an OIA request for communication over this cancellation, as we did last week to the Rotorua Lakes Council when Rainbow Storytime at the Rotorua Library was cancelled due to ‘safety concerns’.

“If it turns out that the Council has simply cancelled the event because others who disliked it were going to express that, the Council is the one to blame for the event being cancelled and putting a stop to public debate.

“Protest is an essential part of our democratic society, and we should not cancel public events because of them. Spurious health and safety claims are unacceptable.”

 

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