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Free Speech and Bigotry

The Washington Post reports that EU officials are working on pushing new regulations to combat hate crimes and racism.

A laudable goal. A bad way to get there.

The documents urge E.U. nations to impose prison sentences of up to three years for individuals convicted of denying genocide, such as the mass killing of Jews during World War II or the massacres in Rwanda in 1994.The rules would require countries to prosecute offenders in connection with killings that have been recognized as genocides by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Crossing that line into a world where prison can await you for espousing your beliefs, no matter how repugnant those beliefs may be, is nothing short of terrifying. Today, nice people may decide that “hate speech” is so repugnant that prison should await the speaker. I personally wish that “hate speech” would go away. I wish the Klan would never speak again. I wish that David Duke would choke on his own hate, etc., etc.

But what happens tomorrow? With precedent set that some ideas are so dangerous that they must be banned, which ideas will be sacred? Who will decide?

More importantly, we must presume at all times that our own ideas might be wrong. I believe that a message of compassion and equality is more compelling than one of hate. I am prepared to throw my ideas into the ring with any Nazi, any time, anywhere. My confidence is not based in my own ability to articulate my beliefs, but by the strength that comes from them. I do not feel threatened by hate speech, because I believe that in the marketplace of ideas, such speech will have few buyers. If it has too many buyers, than those of us with “good ideas” are not selling them properly.

The article continues:

[S]ome political figures said the regulations could undermine freedom of speech, expression and the press. “Attempts to harmonize E.U. laws on hate crimes are both illiberal and nonsensical,” Graham Watson, a British member of the European Parliament, said in a statement.

Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary.

Imagine if such laws took root here? Imagine the hysteria we lived in (and still live in) post 9-11. Imagine if such precedent were already in place here? Would preaching Islam have fallen under the axe? What about speaking highly of terrorists? What about speaking ill of the government? Criticizing Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay? Do you think for a moment that a law banning speaking positively of homosexual rights would fail in Mississippi or Utah?

Dworkin & MacKinnon tried to bring similar laws to our shores to “protect” us from pornography. Many campuses still have ill-conceived “speech codes.” Florida has laws banning the disparagement of the Confederate flag! The specter of this kind of thought control is not far-fetched, and certainly has its undercurrents in the United States. Look no further than nopornnorthampton.

You believe in free speech or you do not. If Nazis and Klansmen ever find that they must fear prison for speaking their minds, then we are all in trouble. When “degrading” and even “foul” adult media is threatened, then we are all less free.

We can look to Europe for much inspiration, and much of it is positive. However, this is one movement that should never take root on our soil. I hate to fight on the same side as bigots and holocaust-deniers, but if that is the price of defending free speech, then I’ll plug my nose and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those that I hate.

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