Farm worker Yuet Rappard should not have been fined for
telling a foreign student to remove her burqa, Otago
University religious freedom professor Rex Ahdar says.
And free speech professor Andrew Geddis said Rappard's view
was valid and a Supreme Court ruling allowed people to cause
offence, and upset others, to maintain the freedom of speech.
Rappard was found guilty of offensive behaviour and fined
$500 on Wednesday for telling a student on May 17 in a
Dunedin supermarket to remove her burqa or leave New Zealand.
Prof Ahdar said Rappard should not have been fined.
''Only in the most exceptional circumstances would I have
criminal liability for speech and this isn't one of them.''
The inciting of a riot, or threatening to kill, was worthy of
criminal liability but insulting somebody was not, he said.
''Only in rare circumstances, I would impose criminal
liability for speech and not for your everyday insult.''
Prof Geddis said Rappard was fined because if a person
behaved in an offensive way in public they had committed an
offence. If a ''reasonable person'' found the behaviour
offensive, then they were fined.
However, the Supreme Court had ruled that people could cause
an offence and upset other people so free speech meant
''Because if you can't offend people with your speech, well
then you don't really have a right to free speech at all -
you can only say things that everyone agrees with and there
is not much point to that.''
For something to be deemed offensive, it had to create a risk
to public order, he said.
''It's not enough to cause people to be upset inside
themselves; you have to have some impact on the public
The law then needed to decide if the public should have been
offended by, or tolerated, the behaviour.
However, he believed Rappard had stepped over the line of
respect and civility in the Dunedin supermarket.
''In the way she treated the student - not in what she
thought - what she thought was a quite valid view. A lot of
people think the burqa is a bad symbol. It is how [Rappard]
went about it, particularly if she used the words `dirty