They are not new, but the world reaction to the bombing that killed and wounded hundreds of Christians in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, as they celebrated their faith's most important date, supports fears that what we are seeing is a sustained attack on Christianity. And not only with bombs and guns.

Commentators around the world described the church bombings as targeting 'worshippers'. Few, if any, who reported on them identified the victims as Christian. That, critics say, would not have been the case had they been adherents of any other religion.

There can certainly be no doubt that attitudes are changing at a rapid pace, guided by those whose utterances shape the way we think. We are seeing that here in the wake of the Christchurch massacres of March 15. The real legacy of that atrocity will not be stricter gun control laws, or even a strengthening of police station security to support Police Minister Stuart Nash's wildly misguided assertion that now-illegal firearms would be safer at a police station than in the hands of a hitherto legal owner.

The real legacy is likely to be a determination to outlaw so-called hate speech, to govern what we say, how and where we say it. And Christianity, for some reason, seems to be a popular target, perhaps because it is mistakenly identified as representing 'white' privilege. It might well be interpreted as a deliberate, sustained bid to weaken the Christian-Judeo principles that underpin 'Western' civilisation.


Post-March 15, the process seems to include what can only be a deliberate, or at best stunningly clumsy, bid to make us feel unsafe. We now know beyond all doubt that we at the bottom of the world are not immune from the hate and violence so common in many other societies, but we are being encouraged to live in fear.

The latest example followed last week's fatal shooting of one person and wounding of three in a Californian synagogue. Initially we were told that the teenage murderer might have in part been inspired by the Christchurch shootings, in that his 'manifesto,' published before his attack, made reference to other atrocities, including Christchurch. With no further evidence having come to hand, that morphed into a 'direct link' with Christchurch.

On Sunday a newspaper columnist criticised the overt displays of Christian faith by some rugby players. He noted that it was becoming more common for players to adorn their wrists with strapping featuring a cross, and to celebrate scoring a try by signalling their thanks to God. That, he claimed, damaged rugby's stated aim of inclusivity.

He is not the first, and won't be the last, to completely miss the extraordinary double standard, at least in Australia but now creeping in here, by a sport that preaches tolerance, diversity and inclusivity but specifically excludes Christianity.

Would he object to a Jewish rugby player wearing the Star of David? Of course he wouldn't. And if he did he would be scorned by all and sundry.

In Australia Israel Folau has been condemned for quoting the Bible. It would seem to be a very small step from there to declaring the quoting of the Christian scriptures to be a criminal offence. That is almost a given if we continue to follow the path we have set out upon to refine the laws against so-called hate speech.

All that aim will need to succeed is not widespread public support but apathy, acceptance of a message based on prejudice and ignorance, qualities that are now being given free rein.

In this country at least, hate speech seems destined to be defined by people who really don't know what they are talking about. They don't need to. All that is required is for someone to take offence, and to express that offence publicly. Others will quickly add their support, and hey presto, we lose a little more of our liberty to say what we think.


Ignorance is much more common than wisdom these days, and what wisdom there is tends to be shouted down. If we are not careful we are going to find ourselves governed by laws built on ignorance, prejudice, and an officially favoured version of history and culture. Witness the reaction of Justice Minister Andrew Little to one single, solitary complaint about a pamphlet stating, among other things, that the Waitangi Tribunal should be abolished and that pre-European Māori society was violent and Stone Age.

Mr Little's reported view was that such opinions amounted to hate speech, and that expressing them publicly was worthy of investigation. Heaven forbid that he should be the self-appointed arbiter of what can and cannot be said in this country without falling foul of the criminal law, but if it is not him it will be someone else.

Mr Little, and others who clamour for new laws, overlook the fact that it is already a criminal offence to incite violence to begin or continue. While we treasure our right to free speech, the law does not permit us to foment hate. The law prohibiting that form of 'disorderly behaviour' has worked well enough until now, has it not? And if it needs to be amended to prohibit quoting the Bible, should it not cover the quoting of all religious tenets? Why is the Bible singled out?

Perhaps, and it is a small perhaps, we could comfort ourselves with the thought that most of us are rational, tolerant beings, and the belief that our politicians would not make laws that were not based on rationality and tolerance. Many Germans no doubt exhibited the same trust in their politicians before Hitler annihilated his opposition, and silenced his critics with fear.

This country might not be at risk of succumbing to fascism — quite the reverse, actually, but increasingly we are being told what to think, and more particularly what we can say. It might all seem innocuous, even laughable, but Christians, around the world and even here, won't be laughing. Nor should anyone else.

Christians have long been the subject of ridicule, a much more powerful weapon than bombs and guns, but something more sinister is now evolving. We seem to be laying the foundations of a society where the fruit loops will rule, or at least be legally protected from whatever it is that they find offensive, starting, perhaps, with Christianity, but going far beyond that. Prejudice and ignorance have no limits.

These are perilous times, and our traditional inclination not to worry about things that we don't expect to affect us personally does not serve us well. We need to step back from the brink.

Remember the words of Martin Niemoller: 'First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.'