The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

The right to protest


Today there was a small protest outside Parliament. No big deal in my books, people protest about stuff all the time. On this occasion, a New Zealand flag was burned. The protestors were pro-republican, and they believe that we should not have a monarch as head of state (hence the burning of the flag, which contains a Union Jack because of our ties to the British Empire, now the British Commonwealth). The protestors also had photos of New Zealand politicians including the current and former Prime Minister, and cut their heads off. Granted, that’s tasteless, but nobody interpreted it as a threat.

This is what the news story says: “Parliamentary Service said the protest was unauthorised and police were investigating.”

Police? Unauthorised? Am I to understand that this protest would need to be authorised by the people at whom it was directed?



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  1. haha.. yeah.. that would be funny.

    You know, I have no objection to republicans other than this:
    My family has been here since the 1830’s. We built schools, churches, town halls, rugby clubs etc in towns around the place. One of my Great Uncles is the architect who designed the Auckland Museum. His house is a historic place in Epsom. My English heritage is the Queen and the Commonwealth, and that is why my family came here and helped found this country.
    Retaining the Queen as sovereign does not hurt this country, in fact, its beneficial. And its my history and heritage, and I am as much entitled to it as the Maori to theirs, and so on and so on ad nauseum.

  2. I think it’s safe to say that the debate over New Zealand as a republic is about slightly higher principles than respecting one’s ancestors. It’s about whether in principle the queen should be our head of state.

    But my concern here wasn’t really about whether the Republican party is correct. It’s about how appropriate it is for parliamentary services to be getting the police involved on the grounds that the protest wasn’t “authorised.” Surely they don’t (i.e. should not be able to) tell us when we can and cannot protest.

  3. Its a bit more than respecting ones ancestors, its respecting the history of the country, and those who came here and made it what it is today. For all those who died defending it in various wars, etc etc.

    It was just an opinion, not really commenting on protesting at all.. just a sideline 😛

  4. jiranz2

    I’m with Geoff on this one. I heard that having the queen as crown granted citizens common law rights. Ditching the monarchy means ditching common law. Then the country would be in a right pickle, because justice and law enforcement is at the whim and direction of government, unlike in the UK and US where they are separate. Is this true?

  5. jiranz, ditching the monarchy does not get rid of common law. At present, we have theoretical separation of powers. However, this isn’t because of common law.

    Geoff, surely we don’t (or shouldn’t) decide on right principles of government by showing respect for what people in the past thought and did.

    And both of you – why are we even talking about this?

  6. Peter C

    But the flag I don’t know about that. To me it stands for a lot more than the monarchy. I have no objections about what or where they were protesting but you don’t mess with the flag on my watch (lucky for them its not)

  7. Dan

    I’m more concerned about this as part of a mindset among statist-communitarian proponents that demands a license or permission to conduct basic activities. Some of this is simple protectionism — established economic interests (like barbers and hairdressers in the US) lobby for licensing to be able to keep competitors (like African-style hair braiders) out of the market. But this same reasoning pops up in statist licensing schemes like requiring folks to get permits before speaking and requiring approval of the manner of the speech. Similarly, U.S. election law is set up to give extraordinary advantages and impose extraordinary burdens on third parties seeking to participate in the political process. The established political interests in the state use licensing to keep competitors out of what they perceive as their political market.

    Licensing also has the effect of removing the state enforcement efforts (i.e., sending in the cops to investigate and beat on the protesters) one step away from direct prohibitions on what is supposed to be protected conduct. “No m’am we’re not here to deny your sacred right to free speech. We just need to see your permit.”

    With all that said, flag burning is annoying.

  8. Nathan

    Perhaps they didn’t have the courtesy to at least inform the police and officials that they were going to protest, and perhaps the media have dressed up the story to make it a bit more ‘newsworthy’. Who knows.

    Are there laws around public gatherings?

  9. Mr Gronk

    Maybe the problem is not so much that the protest was held, but rather where it was held.

    The question is whether Parliament’s front lawn is viewed as public property, like a town park, or private property, like a house’s front lawn. If the former, then I agree that requiring an “authorisation to protest” is poor form, because the same extends, or could easily be extended, to all public places. If we regard protesting in general as a legitimate form of political expression, I don’t think it’s good to give authorities arbitrary discretion as to which protests are allowed to go ahead and which are forbidden.

    On the other hand, if Parliament’s grounds are private property, then there is no such thing as a “right” to protest on the front lawn; it is a privilege that those who administer the grounds – Parliamentary Services, and, I think, ultimately the Speaker – extend to the people. If that’s the case, surely they’re free to insist that intended protesters seek permission in advance, and free also to deny that permission sometimes (or even every time). I’m not sure that banning protests on Parliament’s property sends an encouraging message about our lawmakers’ willingness to listen (cf. our right to petition the King), but it’s a lot better than being able to ban them anywhere.

    As an aside, even if protesting per se is legal, burning the flag isn’t. A thing called the “Flags, Emblems and Names Protection Act 1981” outlaws such actions, whether at Parliament or not. I’m not sure I agree with that law, I haven’t heard of any prosecutions under it, and I dare say no-one wants to make a martyr for the cause of freedom of expression, but there it is.

  10. Mr Gronk, I agree in regard to the public/private property distinction. My understanding is that the lawn of parliament is public property.

    In a way I wish these guys would get prosecuted for the flag burning to bring the issue of freedom of expression into the limelight.

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