Dispatches from the Creation Wars

More European Free Speech Limits?

A London newspaper reports that Germany wants to introduce a new EU-wide law banning holocaust denial.

Germany intends to introduce a Europe-wide law banning the display of Nazi symbols and making denial of the Holocaust a crime to fulfil its “historical obligation” 62 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.

Brigitte Zypries, the Justice Minister, will today outline plans to punish with up to three years in prison anyone in the European Union who publicly rejects the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews.

The paper also notes that this isn’t the first time this has been proposed:

A previous attempt to ban Nazi symbols was blocked by several governments, including Britain, while Holocaust denial was halted on the grounds of freedom of speech by Italy, which then had the post-fascist National Alliance in its ruling coalition. The Italian Government has now changed, giving the Germans hope of EU agreement. But there will be extra pressure from former Soviet-bloc countries for a ban on the provocative use of the communist hammer and sickle.

And the anti-free speech agenda appears to be much broader than a law targeting holocaust denial:

Ms Zypries will appeal to them at a meeting in Dresden today and tomorrow to build a European criminal code on racism and xenophobia.

“We have always said it cannot be the case that it should still be acceptable in Europe to say that six million Jews were never killed,” she said. “There is some controversy about that under ‘freedom of expression’ but we believe that there are limits to freedom of expression, and the limits are there when it is offensive to other religions and ethnic groups.”

Such rhetoric should scare the hell out of any European who values liberty. Anyone who believes that the limit on free speech should be drawn against anything that is “offensive to other religions and ethnic groups” simply doesn’t believe in free speech at all, nor do they believe in individual rights. What they believe in is a bastardized notion of “group rights”, where an ethnic or religious group has a “right” not to be offended. This is not liberty, it is the opposite of liberty, a dangerous pretext for destroying free expression.

Comments

  1. #1 jba
    January 16, 2007

    How likely is this to pass? And arent there some major differences between American freedom of speech and most European speech laws already?

  2. #2 Matthew Young
    January 16, 2007

    Well maybe this excellent law will help me in my mission to get all religious people imprisoned for believing in palpably idiotic and demonstrably false fairytale nonsense on the grounds that their inane ramblings and immoral laws offend me as an atheist.

    But then, perhaps not.

    Ed, you are quite right, this would be a scary, scary law. The Germans have had an awful problem with holocaust denial at various times and I think they have taken the coward’s approach to winning the argument. The only real reason I can see for preventing people expressing their opinions is cowardice and insecurity, and these are not supposed to be the governing motivations when making one’s laws.

  3. #3 Matthew Young
    January 16, 2007

    Curses, obviously that should read: ‘only reasons I can see are’. Damn my failure to use the preview option properly!

  4. #4 Orac
    January 16, 2007

    Well maybe this excellent law will help me in my mission to get all religious people imprisoned for believing in palpably idiotic and demonstrably false fairytale nonsense on the grounds that their inane ramblings and immoral laws offend me as an atheist.

    No, actually you’ll be, as they say, S.O.L. as an atheist. Turkey is trying to add to this package a law that “outlaws defamation of all religions.” If Turkey succeeds, you could find yourself in all sorts of trouble in Europe if you start criticizing the beliefs of specific religions.

    Laws like this scare the crap out of me and make apparent the wisdom of our Founding Fathers in enshrining the right to freedom of speech and assembly in the Constitution. It’s much more difficult to mess with it there, than if it were only protected by legislation.

  5. #5 John B
    January 16, 2007

    I’m Canadian (well, a Quebecer, anyway) and i don’t know about the details of the US system, but the Great White North hates hate.

    Our system’s stance makes for a bizarre sort of law. The arbitrary nature of the groups protected, or the kinds of speech exempt makes the whole thing have wierd implications. For example, Mr. Young would be s.o.l. in his claims against the religious, and hatred of women or the disabled seems to be ok, too:

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_hat6.htm

    Status of bill C-250:
    Sexual orientation has now joined four other groups protected against hate speech on the basis of their “color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” 1 However, a “not withstanding” type clause allows hate speech if it is religiously motivated. In essence, the law states that the freedom of one person to express religiously-motivated hatred is given higher priority that the freedom of another person to be free of hatred expressed against them.

    The Criminal Code of Canada: Hate Propaganda:
    Before 2004-APR-29, the “Hate Propaganda” section of the Criminal Code of Canada (Section 318 & 319) prohibited the expression of hatred against — or the advocacy of genocide of — four “identifiable groups:” people distinguished by their “color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” 1 Curiously enough, sex, disability, and other criteria are not included. Apparently one can deliver a speech that “willfully promotes hatred” — even one which “advocates or promotes genocide” — against women or the disabled and enjoy immunity of prosecution under the law.

  6. #6 John B
    January 16, 2007

    to: Orac
    re: simultaneous use of “s.o.l.”

    jinx!

  7. #7 Matthew Young
    January 16, 2007

    Gents – S.O.L.? I’m English, I’m afraid. What are you on about? It doesn’t sound good whatever it is.

    Things is, advocating genocide etc.. is a threat, albeit a little indirect, so can be outlawed fairly easily. But there’s a big grey area inbetween ‘expressing disapproval of’ and ‘wanting to actually hunt and kill’, and at the moment we seem to be walking that particular tightrope about as effectively as a one-legged man in scuba gear carrying a sack of angry badgers.

  8. #8 Cheeto
    January 16, 2007

    Matthew: S.O.L. = shit out of luck – i.e. no luck left

  9. #9 Dave S.
    January 16, 2007

    John B. (your nickname should be “Sloop”)-

    The Canadian Hate Crime laws are an example of just the kind of ridiculous well meaning but incoherant and speech suppressing laws we don’t need. Giving exemptions to religious speech is not the answer. Hateful speech is best countered by more free speech to expose and rubut the haters.

    A Fellow Canuck

  10. #10 Raging Bee
    January 16, 2007

    I don’t agree with such laws, and even if I was inclined to support them, I’d still be quite worried about the precedent they would set in other areas. Nonetheless, a plausible, if rather thin, case can be made for them:

    First, we already punish slander. And if alleging that someone completely made up a story about millions of people being exterminated isn’t slander, it comes pretty damn close.

    Second, we already punish inciting to riot. And if alleging that someone completely made up a story about millions of people being exterminated isn’t inciting to riot, it comes pretty damn close.

    Third, some countries — including Turkey, which seems about to join the EU — have laws against “insulting” or “defaming” the country or state; and at least one author has been prosecuted under that law for saying that Turkey’s extermination of Armenians DID happen. Furthermore, all peoples have a strong tendency (law or no law) to gloss over, downplay, or flatly deny, atrocities in their own past. So, given the laws or traditions that may prevail in some places, perhaps laws against such denial could be thought of as a sort of “affirmative action.”

    I’m worried about where such laws could go, especially in a place that seems ready to cave to Islamofascism, but I can certainly understand the frustration that leads to such proposals. You’d be frustrated too, if you saw your parents brutally murdered, and than had to hear some wanker academic or drunken loser insisting that they had faked the whole thing and were still alive.

  11. #11 brtkrbzhnv
    January 16, 2007

    Yes, that kind of rhetoric scares the hell out of me, but not as much as the actual legislation we already have in place here in Sweden, legislation that makes it illegal to express disrespect (this is the way my dictionary translates it; I’m not exaggerating) against an ethnic or religious minority or against homosexuals, and legislation that bans possession of child pornography, the latter passed a few years ago with little debate, despite being a major break in Swedish judicial tradition in that not only the publisher but also the buyer is held responsible for material that isn’t properly censored.

    Regarding enshrining rights in the constitution: we have both freedom of speech and freedom of the press enshrined in our constitution; it’s just that the legislature keeps adding these exception clauses to it; so it’s not some extraordinary wisdom of your founding fathers that’s saved most of your free speech; it’s that Americans for some reason seem to have come to view their constitution as something sacred.

  12. #12 Peiter
    January 16, 2007

    I seriously doubt if this will be EU law. Laws like this require an extended majority comprising both member states and populations, and there are probably a sufficient amount of truly liberal states in the EU not to pass it. I’m thinking my native Denmark, Norway, UK, Netherlands, Belgium, France (maybe?), … Oh, darn, maybe it’s not enough… Anyhow, the Commission can’t really enforce legislation like this.

  13. #13 Peiter
    January 16, 2007

    Oops, almost forgot. Even though it might not pass, it’s still not very comforting that we have to rely on tecnichal issues like this instead of simple reason.

  14. #14 jba
    January 16, 2007

    “legislation that bans possession of child pornography”

    Sorry, but how is this bad? I understand that the publisher should certainly be held responsible, but why should the buyer not be? Or did I misunderstand you? IMO everyone involed in kiddie porn should be punished, maker and buyer.

  15. #15 John B
    January 16, 2007

    Dave S.,

    ok, you got me. What’s a ‘Sloop’?

    So far I have found ‘a type of boat’, and this entry in the urban dictionary:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=sloop

    you anglophones and your neologisms…

  16. #16 THobbes
    January 16, 2007

    brtkrbzhnv–

    I have to disagree with you. Many of us do see the Constitution as sacred, but that is not the reason that its basic guarantees remain unchanged.

    The U.S. Constitution is quite hard to amend, which is the primary reason that only 27 amendments have been approved out of the thousands that were proposed; I have little doubt that were it as simple as having both houses of the U.S. Congress approve an amendment after a general election–which would be the analogue of the Swedish system, I believe–we’d have all sorts of odious and unacceptable changes to the document. It sounds like the setup for amendments in Sweden just makes it too easy, altogether.

  17. #17 John B
    January 16, 2007

    oh, it’s a Beach Boys song title… gotcha.

  18. #18 kate
    January 16, 2007

    John B,
    Check out a Beach Boys discography and you will find the answer to your question and to Dave S’s remark. Pop culture from a few decades back…

  19. #19 THobbes
    January 16, 2007

    John B.–

    Dave S. is of course referring to the classic Caribbean folk song, “The Sloop John B,” later recorded by the Beach Boys and released as a single. At least I think he is.

  20. #20 John B
    January 16, 2007

    Yup, got it. Sorry about the derail:

    We come on the sloop john b

    My grandfather and me
    Around nassau town we did roam
    Drinking all night
    Got into a fight
    Well I feel so broke up
    I want to go home

  21. #21 Ed Brayton
    January 16, 2007

    For the record, I didn’t get the Sloop reference either. Then again, I find the Beach Boys about as entertaining as a root canal. I’d be all for a law banning the song “Kokomo” from ever being played again; that song ranks up there with the Titanic theme for sheer annoyance.

  22. #22 Roman Werpachowski
    January 16, 2007

    I should be worried about this proposition, but… what do I care. My country had such a law before we entered the EU. And it’s not like it will be repelled soon. I tried arguing with many people that it should be repelled, and most of them just stare at me and ask me why do I defend such ugly people like Holocaust deniers.

  23. #23 Dave S.
    January 16, 2007

    Yep, the good ol’ Sloop John B. I’m a bit surprised some of you were perplexed by this reference.

    I admit, not terribly clever, but it’s the best I could do on short notice. :)

  24. #24 raj
    January 16, 2007

    Sloop John B is from the Beach Boy’s album Pet Sounds which was probably the best album that they ever recorded. And, IMHO, is still far superior to much of what passes for “music” that I have seen discussed here. /tic

    On the subject matter of the post, there are a few things that are interesting from a political standpoint. The proposal is coming at a time when Germany is set to take up the presidency of the European Commission. It is coming at a time that the conservative CDU/CSU coalition, under head of Angela Merkel is heading Germany. It is coming at a time when the CSU portion of the CDU/CSU coalition may be falling apart. There were reports in Der Spiegel’s English language edition yesterday that the CSU, which is only in Bavaria, may be losing its grip on Bavaria, and that may suggest that Merkel’s coalition more than a bit tenuous than otherwise. Merkel might well be floating the proposal to try to buttress her flagging coalition in Germany, but it’s far from clear how this might do so.

    And it is coming from a news outlet from the UK, which has had a relatively tenuous relationship with Germany since long before WWII, indeed, since before WWI. I’d tend to read much of anything reported in London regarding Germany with a mountain of salt–especially if it comes from a Rupert Murdoch rag, which the Times of London is.

    If and when I see something in Der Spiegel about it, I’ll take it as a serious proposal. Otherwise, not really.

  25. #25 Raging Bee
    January 16, 2007

    “Sloop” is one of the wimpiest songs I’ve ever heard; and “Kokomo” could conceivably be regulated as advertizing. The Beach Boys in general have about as much substance as whipped cream.

  26. #26 John B
    January 16, 2007

    “Sloop” is one of the wimpiest songs I’ve ever heard; and “Kokomo” could conceivably be regulated as advertizing. The Beach Boys in general have about as much substance as whipped cream.

    So far in this thread it seems like slang and pop-culture references need to be regulated, along with Beach-Boys-Musical-Genius deniers…

    Seriously though, Raging Bee, you mentioned ‘slander’(libel inclusive, I imagine) and ‘inciting a riot’ above, a criminal law issues. Is that the extent of US limits on free speech?

  27. #27 Raging Bee
    January 16, 2007

    No, there’s plenty more, like blowing state secrets, spreading private information, etc. Also, product advertizements are regulated in terms of both placement and content. Why do you ask?

  28. #28 John B
    January 16, 2007

    Just drawing on the distinction Ed made made in the last paragraph of his post:

    Anyone who believes that the limit on free speech should be drawn against anything that is “offensive to other religions and ethnic groups” simply doesn’t believe in free speech at all, nor do they believe in individual rights. What they believe in is a bastardized notion of “group rights”, where an ethnic or religious group has a “right” not to be offended. This is not liberty, it is the opposite of liberty, a dangerous pretext for destroying free expression.

    It’s the ‘group rights’ idea that is offensive? The Canadian version of the Hate-propaganda law does try to establish protected groups.

    Are slander, etc… always individual claims in the American legal system? or are such claims frequently trumped by the first amendment?

    I’m trying to sort out the important distinction between US limits on free speech and those of other nations.

  29. #29 Raging Bee
    January 16, 2007

    Are slander, etc… always individual claims in the American legal system? or are such claims frequently trumped by the first amendment?

    As I understand it, a statement or article is “slander” (spoken) or “libel” (written) if, and only if, it is:

    a) false;
    b) made with reckless disregard for the truth;
    c) intended to cause harm; AND
    d) actually shown to have caused harm.

    Holocaust-denial easily passes tests a, b, and c above, but clause (d) pretty much forces you to prove specific harm to specific individuals, since you can’t prove harm to a concept or grouping such as “Islam” or “Jews.” So a Holocaust-denier can’t be punished unless his statements are proven to have caused some specific harm that would not otherwise have happened — such as a riot or pogrom by people who heard the speech, or (maybe) a wave of hurtful decisions made soon after, and as a result of, a specific allegation.

  30. #30 kehrsam
    January 16, 2007

    I would add, Raging Bee, that one cannot defame the dead. So there is really no legal bar to Holocaust Denial.

  31. #31 Torbjörn Larsson
    January 16, 2007

    Not so funny proposals are floated all the time, unfortunately. I think raj made an excellent analysis.

    It sounds like the setup for amendments in Sweden just makes it too easy

    The swedish systems differ from US and english systems in many cases. Changing the constitution is rather difficult (but AFAIK it was modernized quite recently, and again later to fit EU before joining), but changing other legislation not so much – and the law system isn’t as cleanly separated.

    against an ethnic or religious minority or against homosexuals

    Yes, and that affects free speech. But again, when a priest preached hate-speeches against homosexuals, the legal system could not intervene since it was private space. So it isn’t so cut-and-dried.

    Similarly, some has referred to the earlier prohibition to work on new nuclear energy technology as a ‘thought ban’. But I think it was instated since it was too sensitive to let companies continue work when the working nuclear plants were supposed to be the last of their kind. Gone now, IIRC.

    Btw, another moral regulation that is a problem is the prostitution law. Earlier, for a few years neither buyer nor prostitute was punishable, as I understand it, and the effects of prostitution were easier to ameliorate. The number of prostitutes and the money involved were lower because they were accessible.

    But now it is criminalized, which seems to have made it a hidden business with more prostitutes, more violence, and more criminals involved. Probably even more customers, since it is hidden instead of all open, IIUC. Just because some let their own wellbeing (“no visible prostitutes, laws defining our morality”) go before others.

  32. #32 kehrsam
    January 16, 2007

    As for “The Sloop John B,” try the Weavers’ version. For some reason, all they have is the crappy Beach Boys one on youtube. Here’s a page from Amazon with a clip.

    http://www.amazon.com/Weavers-Greatest-Hits/dp/B000000EBD/sr=8-1/qid=1168975581/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-6636206-2199112?ie=UTF8&s=music

  33. #33 doctorgoo
    January 16, 2007

    Gee thanks Ed. I’ve had Kokomo stuck in my head for a couple hours now.

    As an act of revenge, I curse you with Disney’s It’s a Small World being stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

  34. #34 Tyler DiPietro
    January 16, 2007

    doctorgoo, that’s nothing. I’m cursing everyone who reads this thread to have “Louie Louie?” by Richard Berry stuck in their heads, FOREVER!!!1!

  35. #35 Raging Bee
    January 16, 2007

    I laugh out my ass at your silly curses — I’m listening to Arabic-noir music. When I’m not listening to Euro-pop or techno-Klezmer, that is…

  36. #36 James
    January 17, 2007

    There’s an idea that’s been kicking around in my head for a while (its better than having Kokomo at any rate ;) ) regarding rights. I don’t know how well it would work in this instance, but here it is:

    These days almost everyone who is trying to restrict liberty in some way uses the language of rights because, well who doesn’t like rights? This produces a framing bias. One way to get around the bias is to reframe the proposal. Every right can be re-interpreted as a set of obligations e.g. if I have a right to life, everyone else has an obligation not to kill me. Redefine these “rights” as obligations and see how well they play in the public eye, at the very least it will make the intent explicit.

  37. #37 Bob
    January 17, 2007

    A ban on Nazi war symbols should remain in place. This is stll a sensitive issue and will reamin so for some time.

  38. #38 jba
    January 17, 2007

    Bob:

    So because its a sensitive issue it should be illegal? This might just be my American freedom of speech beliefs coming through, but I dont see how thats reasonable. Lots of things are sensitive, but that doesnt mean they should be outlawed IMO.

  39. #39 Jim Lippard
    January 17, 2007

    Orac: Turkey’s anti-free speech laws (e.g., forbidding mention of Armenian genocide) are already an obstacle to their admission to the EU.

  40. #40 Ed Brayton
    January 17, 2007

    Bob wrote:

    A ban on Nazi war symbols should remain in place. This is stll a sensitive issue and will reamin so for some time.

    Great, what about all of the other “sensitive issues” in the world, of which there are a virtually unlimited number? This is an extremely weak argument. And hardly a convincing one to the hundreds of millions of Hindus on the planet, for whom the swastika has been a symbol of peace for nearly 5000 years.

  41. #41 Roman Werpachowski
    January 17, 2007

    A ban on Nazi war symbols should remain in place. This is stll a sensitive issue and will reamin so for some time.

    The ban is stupid. For example, it is impossible to buy in Poland a copy of “Mein Kampf” in a bookstore. Therefore, people can’t know what a piece of shit this book is.

    The ban also leads to hilarious things, like German WW II fans travelling to Poland to dress up in Wehrmacht uniforms and drive around in restored Nazi armoured cars. It is forbidden in Germany, but not in Poland. And yet it is Germany which has serious problems with Neonazis, not Poland.

    Generally, if you repress some ideology in such a way, you create an underground. This leads to nasty, even criminal problems. Is protecting the sensitivities worth it?

    Orac: Turkey’s anti-free speech laws (e.g., forbidding mention of Armenian genocide) are already an obstacle to their admission to the EU.

    What about French laws forbidding the denial of Armenian genocide? If Turkey is to be denied the EU membership because of their limits on free speech, shouldn’t France be at least criticized by the EU for their own laws of this kind?

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