Wednesday, March 15, 2006

An Open Letter to Europe

It's all well and good to lecture Muslims about the value Western cultures put on the freedom of speech and religion. Your argument would be much more convincing, however, if you practiced what you preach. It would be much less hypocritical of you to proudly tout your "right to offend" if you didn't have so many laws prohibiting just that.
  • Austria prohibits the ridiculing of a religion. Penalty—6 months in jail. Holocaust denial is also a crime. Historian David Irving has just been sentenced to three years in prison for violating that law.
  • Britain outlaws blasphemy against the Anglican Church and has no codified free speech protection.
  • Denmark has a law against anyone who "publicly offends or insults a religion that is recognized in the country." Penalty—Fines and up to four months in jail.
  • France outlaws religious hatred. In 2005, the Catholic Church succeeded in banning a fashion ad based on the Last Supper. According to the judge, the ad was "a gratuitous...act of intrusion on people's innermost beliefs." Holocaust denial is also a crime.
  • Germany has a law against blasphemy that was last used in 1994 to ban a musical comedy. Holocaust denial is a crime.
  • Italy has a law against "outrage to a religion." A case against Oriana Fallaci is now pending on charges that she violated this law.
  • The Netherlands bans "scornful blasphemy." Penalty—three months in jail and a fine of 70 euros.
  • Norway has a "public order law dating from the 1930s which in principle outlaws blasphemy." Penalty—six months in jail.
  • Poland has a law against "publicly offending a person's religious feelings." Penalty—up to two years in prison. Artist Dorota Nieznalska is currently being prosecuted under this law.
  • Portugal outlaws religious hatred, as does Spain.
People are fond of saying that freedom of speech is freedom of speech, period. Once you start to limit it, you don't really have it. If you want to lecture the rest of the world about your precious freedoms, at least have the common decency to wipe the stain of blasphemy and anti-free speech laws off your books. Doing so may prompt a debate that will reveal just how comfortable Europeans would be with real freedom of speech. If you want people to see you as enlightened, you have to act enlightened.
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