The Free Word

In response to yesterday’s acquittal of Lars Hedegaard on “hate speech” charges, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published the following editorial calling for the repeal of the law in question.

Many thanks to Henrik Ræder Clausen for translating it:

The Free Word

It is encouraging to see that as a reaction to the pointless charges for ‘racism’ against Lars Hedegaard, chairman of the Danish Free Press Society, the Danish parliament finally seems to have a majority for changing the law in question, article 266b in the Danish penal code. But it is premature to lean back and believe that now all is well.

Up until now, politicians from the governing parties have made no mention of removing the article, merely about ‘modernizing’ it. And if we were to finally succeed in raising a parliamentary majority to remove this shameful stain on a society priding itself on being designated ‘democratic’, we would be sure to see the entire human rights industry start whining about conventions, framework decisions and directives.

In the meantime it seems appropriate to recall that the article has already been ‘modernized’ a full four times. And every one of those has led to new limitations on our right to free expression. So, no thanks, there is no need for yet another ‘modernization’. What we need is to entirely remove both article 266b (commonly known as the ‘Racism article’) as well as Article 140, concerning blasphemy. And it simply can’t happen too soon.

By removing these articles, Denmark could take pride in being a European frontrunner in protecting freedom of expression. In this way, Denmark can show the fundamentalists of offense-taking that there are better and more civilized ways to organize a multicultural, multiethnic, and multireligious society than constructing new limitations to our freedom as European societies become more pluralistic and new minorities are arriving. By doing so, Denmark would also send the European Union a clear signal that the more diverse a society becomes with respect to culture and religion, the more important it becomes that this development be accompanied by a variety of expressions.

This is something long understood in the United States of America, but this understanding does not seem to have dawned in any European governments. But is certainly about time, if Europe of the 21st century is to keep its reputation as the continent of freedom. It would be quite sad if the wave of freedom that washed the continent in 1989 should be suffocated in a jungle of ‘offence articles’, killing free debate and critical scrutiny of religions, cultures and ideologies.

The Danish article about racism (§ 266b) was originally created as a reaction to European anti-Semitism of the 1930s. It made it possible to punish those spreading false rumours and accusations against a population group and thus incite hatred and persecutions. The article was meant to be used to counter lies, like the classical anti-Semitic legend that Jews drink the blood of Christian children and other nonsense.

The article was not meant to be a tool to shut the mouth of those having politically incorrect opinions, or who put forth points of view or conclusions that some might find reprehensible, but this is what it has evolved into. Racism, in particular the escalating anti-Semitism in Europe, must certainly be countered. But this should not be done through articles in the law, unless ware are dealing with libel or encouragement to violence, and we already have plethora of articles in the penal code to deal with these.

A solid and extensive protection of free expression has been and remains the most effective tool to combat racism and discrimination, not outlawing certain opinions held by citizens, no matter how reprehensible they might be. Unfortunately it would seem that Europe is moving in the wrong direction with regard to freedom of expression. The European Union is putting pressure on its member states to limit freedom of expression, and Islamic countries are demanding initiatives against criticism of Islam. On this background it would be uplifting if Denmark would remove these articles from the law, and become an example for others to follow.

One thought on “The Free Word

  1. To whit:

    The Danish Congress/Parliament shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or freedom of the press.

    (Slander, and calls to immediate violence like literal, not figurative, death threats, or acts of dangerous deception, like crying “Fire!” in a crowded theater -when there is none- are exempted, of course.)

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