Laws Against Hate Speech: Freedom of Expression at Risk

Book review “Censored”

Already from the Bible it is reported that the prophet was not welcomed in his own country, and probably not in his own time either. Writers and great composers also often share the fate that the greatness of their works was not immediately recognized.

The Brittain Paul Coleman has published his book CENSORED: How European “Hate Speech” Laws Are Threatening Freedom of Speech in 2012 at a time when the vast majority in Canada was still barely aware of the fact that state legislation and censorship ambitions could jeopardize freedom of expression.

In the meantime, “hate speech” laws are in force in Canada, and citizens are already feeling the effects. Today, in 2020, this book could almost be called prophetic in retrospect, and it is breaking into an overheated society in which more and more people share the experience that the accusation of “hate speech” is quickly at hand to throw to keep others out of the discourse instead of objectively refuting them.

Where there is no clear definition, everything is ideologically possible

They are morally rebuked, reported or immediately banned on Facebook, Twitter and Co. They are accused and convicted if they keep their convictions. A left-wing mob rages through universities and editorial offices with almost religious zeal, guards new “truths” and threatens the guillotine over apostate opinions and those who get involved with the “wrong” opinion.

In his well-founded foreword, Ralf Schuler takes up how the double standards of a politically left-wing culture are not very tolerant. What else can citizens and journalists write? Which opinion or criticism can still be expressed carelessly without being immediately considered fundamentalist, “right wing”, white supremacist, or even homophobic?

And now you don’t even know whether you should congratulate Coleman or be shocked that he was right with all his predictions from 2012 on the development of the hate speech laws. With the merciless sobriety of a lawyer, he dissects the genesis of the hate speech laws, which have one thing in common: none of them provide a binding or clear definition of “hate speech”, which immediately reveals the foundation of the problem: Where there is no clear definition in the law, ideologically everything.

Eastern bloc pushed for restrictions on freedom of expression

What this means in practice is illustrated with a large collection of real cases, some of which he has tried himself as a human rights lawyer up to the highest courts, but also with the help of the documentation of other cases in which people in the middle of Europe got into distress because of their convictions. It also shows that charges are often enough to stigmatize or put others off in a kind of “chilling effect”.

Coleman is a lawyer by profession and a director of the non-governmental organization ADF International. It represents Christians around the world who end up in difficulties, in court or even in prison because of their faith. The spectrum ranges from women ministers charged with quoting the Bible to midwives who are being forced to have abortions, to priests who still defend the Catholic definition of marriage against the LGBT lobby. But also street preachers, silent prayers and even police officers and celebrities are increasingly in distress because of religious or political statements.

Paul Coleman provides a chronology of the genesis of some “hate speech” paragraphs in international treaties and agreements, and that causes unease: after the end of World War II, it was the totalitarian regimes, above all the Soviet states, that massively supported the restriction of free speech and pushed through the introduction of appropriate wording in human rights treaties, while the democratic countries of the free West raised massive objections and fought for freedom of speech – above all for the freedom to criticize governments, for the freedom to revolt and for the freedom to disagree.

Arbitrary argumentation prevails in case law

In 2020 we will see that the wind has turned 180 degrees: In the free, democratic countries and throughout the European Union in particular, the political will has recently flourished to limit the diversity of opinions, the main argument being that it provokes hatred and dissolves into violence.

As Coleman shows, there is growing collateral damage and legal uncertainty. In an additional and highly topical introduction to the book, Coleman comments on current cases in Germany, Europe and also the USA. Sobering result: as a result, arbitrary argumentation prevails in the case law.

The book ends with a compilation of the most important hate speech laws that are already in force in Europe and America. He will soon have to print a second edition to update it, as the number of these laws is increasing in the West every year.

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