I Confess, Too

I must confess. Rhetorically, that is. I don't want to give European prosecutors any ideas should I travel abroad!

Perhaps you should confess, too. If you have ever publicly expressed an opinion that somebody, somewhere, might deem offensive, chances are you may have violated any one or number of the "hate speech" laws that have proliferated throughout Europe.

The language of some of these laws is sweeping. These perhaps once, well-intentioned efforts to prevent discrimination now no longer merely threaten to eviscerate free speech rights; they are eviscerating them. Europeans must speak up now, while they still can and remove these insidious laws from the books once and for all.

On December 3, 2010, Danish MP, Jesper Langballe, of the Danish People's Party offered a "confession" of his own. Langballe was being prosecuted under Danish penal code Article 266b for a statement he made in support of Lars Hedegaard and in regard to the important issues of honor killings and sexual abuse in some Muslim families. (Hedegaard himself faces prosecution under the same code.)

According to his statement, since truth would not be allowed as a defense and to avoid dignifying the process by participating in what he rightly called a "circus," Langballe pleaded guilty to the charges. He was sentenced to a fine or ten days in jail.

While I can appreciate Mr. Langballe's reasons for confessing, it still makes me shudder to think that, in a Western democracy, he was being prosecuted in the first place. Aside from the most obvious point -that I think his prosecution is a human rights violation- I am most disappointed that the Danes allowed it to proceed even as some Danish officials have called for rolling back these "hate crimes." Back in August, the Legal Project reported on efforts that were afoot to change Denmark's laws on offensive speech because of the threat they posed to free expression. But any progress has been too slow to save Langballe, and Hedegaard's trial is set to proceed in January.

Let the experience of the Danes be a warning to us before we consider adopting "hate speech" provisions here. Laws ostensibly directed toward ending one type of wrong can lead to something even worse, that once on the books, becomes very difficult to dislodge.


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