Media Release: Council screening of religious material is not free speech

5 AUGUST 2019


The use of bylaws to prohibit a Whangarei street preacher from pamphleteering sends a dark message to religious New Zealanders.

“Preachers have the right to share views in public squares, as they have done for thousands of years,” says Rachel Poulain, spokesperson for the Free Speech Coalition.

“Now a Whangarei street preacher is told he must obtain a permit to distribute pamphlets in public [1], and this involves submitting his material to the Whangarei District Council which will screen for ‘objectionable’ content. This is the sort of censorship we would expect in the USSR, not liberal New Zealand.”

“Some councils have busking laws that prohibit public performances, but this case goes above and beyond to the point of silencing particular views. Preaching is not entertainment; it is not commercial activity; it is speech.”

“Whangarei District Council’s bylaw requiring written consent for the distribution of printed materials is an abysmal violation of speech [2], as is the Council’s insistence on screening the content of the man’s material.”

“Regardless of how offensive preaching may be to some, it ought to be protected by the law, not shut down.”

The Council’s use of a bylaw to restrict the distribution of written materials comes in addition to the attempt to evoke a ‘public disorder’ argument to prevent spoken word preaching. The Free Speech Coalition sees both approaches as opportunistic attempts to silence unpopular speech.