Uncensored: European ‘hate speech’ laws exposed

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney publishes new book revealing dangers of criminalizing speech
Friday, December 14, 2012

Attorney sound bite:  Paul Coleman

VIENNA — Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Paul Coleman has authored an important new book, released this week, about the criminalization of so-called “hate speech” in Europe and the widespread threat it poses to free speech everywhere.

“No one should be punished for expressing their beliefs,” said Coleman. “Nonetheless, free speech is under attack even though Communist regimes in Europe have fallen. Pastors are being arrested for preaching sermons from the Bible, journalists have been routinely fined, and even private conversations between citizens have resulted in criminal investigations. The state continues to censor speech it considers ‘dangerous.’ In Censored: How European ‘Hate Speech’ Laws are Threatening Freedom of Speech, I have sought to challenge such laws by arguing that criminalizing speech is intolerant and dangerous and leads to a culture of censorship anywhere such laws are adopted.”

The book discusses over 30 “hate speech” cases and includes an up-to-date compendium containing hundreds of European “hate speech” laws. For example, in Germany, committing an “insult” is a criminal offense; in Poland “offending religious feelings” carries a two-year prison sentence; and in Sweden anyone who “expresses contempt” towards a group of persons may be imprisoned.

Key European “hate speech” legal cases highlighted in the book: 

  • In June 2004, Swedish pastor Åke Green was sentenced by a district court to one month in prison for preaching a sermon on the biblical teaching against homosexual behavior. Green’s offence was expressing “contempt” or “disrespect” for a group of people.
  • In March 2009, Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang, owners of a hotel, were charged with breaching Section 5 of Britain’s Public Order Act after a Muslim guest complained she was insulted by the owner’s breakfast conversation on religion.
  • In December 2010, Helmut Griese, a 63-year-old retiree, was charged under section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code for “disparagement of religious symbols.” His offence was yodeling in his garden--an act his Muslim neighbors claimed was an attempt to mock their faith.

“Europe has adopted ‘hate speech’ laws that are so vaguely worded, allowing rampant and pervasive abuse in their interpretation,” added Coleman. “As a result, they are being arbitrarily enforced and have become a way of shutting down public debate on controversial issues. These realities are a wake-up call to those who value free speech in any country in the world. Other nations must not adopt Europe’s mistakes. Instead, we must challenge the prevailing orthodoxy to preserve freedom of speech now and for future generations.”

Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is an alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.

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