Censorship and the Holocaust

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Do you think that publishing Holocaust denial literature should be illegal? Should it be illegal in certain countries, like Germany, but not others? What constitutes a reasonable limit to impose upon free speech?

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000


no. no censorship.

ever see?


I don't know if it's ever been released in video, but it's the single most disturbing documentary film I've ever seen.

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000

Reasonable limits on free speech? Imminent incitement to violence-- yes. Beyond that, I tend to be a purist. As someone who is a trained historian, Holocaust revisionist/denial literature is loathsome, but suppressing it only (1) gives it the charm of forbidden fruit (2) gives it an air of martyrdom (3) confines real historical research. What if some reputable scholar published work arguing that, no, sorry, not six million but only three million. He wouldn't be denying a massive act of genocide, nor would he be saying the act was only half as morally reprehensible. But such a book could well come under anti-revisionist laws...

The German and Canadian laws do bother me. I dislike the thought that it's ever illegal to challenge accepted historical views, and I certainly dislike the idea that an idea, however wrong or loathsome or stupid, can be made *illegal* to express.

And I do wonder if 'freezing' an image of the Holocaust and not allowing any challenge (and do note: as someone who specialized in central and eastern Europe since 1848, I have no doubt whatsoever that this happened in all its savagery and monstrousness...)to an accepted set of facts doesn't just discourage people from reaing, from delving into it onthei own.

1945 is more than a half-century ago. Very soon, all the survivors will be dead. Given so much in our own time-- Srbrenica, Rwanda --we need to keep a debate on the issue of genocide alive and vibrant.

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000

Despite my objections to the proliferation of Holocaust denial literature, I don't believe it should be illegal to distribute it any more than I believe it should be illegal to distribute anti-nazi propaganda. Frankly, I don't believe freedom of speech should apply to material that is considered "acceptable" by the majority, nor should government sanctioned censorship (or revocation of the free speech clause) apply to material that is considered "unacceptable" by the majority. People can dream up and utter terribly hateful things, but I don't believe it's any worse now than it has been since the advent of language. More to the point, I believe the problem isn't so much whether a concept should be censored by government, it's the fact that rather than ignoring or countering distasteful ideas with their own points of view, people expect big brother to protect them from hearing what they don't want to be exposed to. Now, having said that, I do believe individual entities should be able to (and do) censor whatever they desire insofar as the broadcast or distribution of that censored material falls under their control, i.e. a newspaper or television network. The thought of a politician telling me or others what is acceptable language makes me more than a little nervous.

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000

I agree with Jason and Lohr. Censorship has no place in a free society.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

It does not say except in the case of people who are ignorant fools or misguided bigots. No law abridging the freedom of spech or of the press. Period.


-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000

Hmm, everyone seems to be on the same page here, which is really boring. Where are all the damned Canadians when you need them?

Anyway, just to play devil's advocate, do you broad free-speech advocates agree with the 1919 Supreme Court decision which stated that: "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic?"

I would imagine that the Canadian and German laws are based on such a premise: that the right to free speech should not be valued absolutely over the physical safety of a nation's citizens.

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000


I've seen self-defense experts recommend yelling fire instead of other words because it will bring help.

If attacked in a theater, I suppose the Supreme Court would forgive you for doing so.

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000

I think there is a big difference between actually physical danger coming out of free speech (such as shouting "fire") and the supposed "danger" that comes out of a person's opinion about a certain topic that is deemed true by the majority. The only real danger that he poses is to give a new perspective on an issue. When a person makes a comment on an issue, he will always be contested. But NO ONE should have the right to say what a person is allowed to say and what he/she isnt allowed to say. If we are to start censoring any part of free speech (using the excuse that it's to protect the welfare of the people) who's going to stop the government from taking away the rest of our free speech, little by little, using that same excuse? If we give into even that minute amount, it will start an avalanche where any part of our freedom of speech will be jeopardized. An example is this...I'm sure you have all heard about the Harry Potter books and the controversy about its themes dealing with witchcraft and how it advocates other "immoral" behavior, such as lying and cheating. If we were to say that free speech could be censored to protect the people, what would stop someone from saying that these books and ideas should be censored because they teach children bad morals?" I believe free speech should be TOTALLY free. One trait that we all have is FREE WILL. We have the freedom to choose what we believe and if you don't agree with something, write your own book contesting it or JUST DONT READ IT in the first place. But don't stop others from practicing their own right to express their opinions just because you believe its wrong.

-- Anonymous, July 17, 2000

I've always hated the slippery slope argument, which is what you folks are using here. It's an argument born of ignorance and fear; it assumes that government cannot be trusted to do the right thing, therefore it should do nothing at all.

I'm not saying I disagree with the slippery-slope principle, mind you, just that I hate it, because it ties our hands. I mean, come on, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the banning of holocaust revisionism, in and of itself. It's only when we use our imaginations to ask what's next that we see potential problems.

Besides, this Genie is already out of the bottle. Doesn't the US have anti-hate laws?

-- Anonymous, July 18, 2000

Ah, finally, the token Canadian has arrived!

In answer to your question, Dave, the U.S. does have anti-hate crime laws, but they only apply when "hateful" rhetoric or ideas are a motivating factor in another unlawful act. For example, if you beat someone up while yelling racial slurs at them, you can be punished more harshly than if you just beat them up and didn't say anything. Calling someone a racial epithet or writing flawed historical information isn't a crime in and of itself.

However, many Americans are opposed to these laws, feeling that they constitute a slippery slope in and of themselves.

-- Anonymous, July 18, 2000

Hmmm. I just assumed hate speech was illegal everywhere. It's legal in the US? Yikes.

I think a country that offers so much protection for religion (which is all just made up crap) is going to have trouble, anyway. I mean, have a look at www.godhatesfags.com for an example. Is that religion? Or hate speech?

-- Anonymous, July 18, 2000

We allow Farrakahn's (sp?) anti-semetic remarks, so I guess we'll have to allow revisionist literature, and answer it the ame way, with freely spoken truth. Still, government retains the right to censor exhortations to specific acts of hate-based violence. Then, many people support control over the langyuage and ideas to which children are exposed, but at what age should this end or be phased out? I read Richard Wright's "Black Boy" when I was 13, which somewhat upset my mother because of the language used and violence depicted, but she magnanimously accepted my act of curiosity. Today's children experience far worse, and is this for the better?

-- Anonymous, July 18, 2000

I was wondering if dragging someone behind a truck is less punishable than dragging someone behind a truck uttering racist epithets?

Perhaps it is, but when you break it down it seems the only difference is speech.

-- Anonymous, July 18, 2000

Hey Dave... how about we ban the revisionist stuff, burn all their literature and books, set up a governmental high-committee to ferret out all like-minded stuff in libraries and on the web, lock up the idiots who believe it, torture them, and gas 'em! Will you feel safer then?

By letting people with such ideas have their say, you diffuse their impact and show them to be the fools they are. The world is full of crazy, unfair, stupid, undiscernable things... but... WE NEED FOOLS! If our society evolves to the point where such ideas are accepted by the majority, then we don't deserve to survive as a society. You'd be surprised how much common sense most people have... don't be afraid of THE FOOLS. You gotta accept 'em as part of life. Now, if it's utopia you're after... 1984-Brave New World style... you might not like what you end up with. Of course if you think some ONE could oversee the government better than what we've got, let's get a crown out.

As for the 'yelling fire..., " the first ammendment is directed at "political" speech. That is, dealing with ideas. It does not cover malicious slander, or the willfull destruction of persons or property... which would be the result of yelling fire. It is not a "speech" issue, it's a property issue. The childhood rhyme "...and words will never hurt me", "hurt" is the operative word. The constitution had it right; those old guys came up with something pretty amazing... if we can stay smart enough to appreciate it! I could give a rat's ass if other countries want to ban whatever the wind blows... lot's of stuff smells bad... you don't kill stinkin' fools. There's plenty of that going on all over the globe today.

-- Anonymous, July 19, 2000

And the point of slander/libel laws is not that somebody said or wrote something that hurt your feelings, it is that they said or wrote something that was not true and that this action caused quantifiable damages for which you are seeking compensation. It is civil, not criminal. Also please not that the standard defense against libel/slander suits is that the statements were true, but that in the case of "public figures" (such as government officials) the defense doesn't even have to show that the statents were true, merely that the defendant did not deliberately and maliciously spread statements that they knew to be false.

Of course, these days, the place where free speech is most in danger is on our politically correct college campuses where "hate speech" is banned... I can remember when I was in college and free speech meant that campuses would welcome the most radical political speakers but those days apparently are gone...

I can remember back in 1965 when the college I was attending had the head of the American Nazi Party as a speaker (they had already had a major American Communist Party speaker, etc.)... At one point in his speech the speaker charged "ABC, CBS, NBC -- the major networks are all owned and run by Jews!" and, much to his dismay, the audience (with a heavy percentage of students from metro-NYC and Long Island areas) stood and cheered and applauded that statement... The most interesting part of the night was out on the picket lines... Among the protest groups were representatives of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as various campus socialist and far left groups... crewcut and paunchy middle-aged World War II vets marching alongside long-haired leftists and proto-hippies... both groups looking very uncomfortable about marching side-by-side...

Free speech for all who agree with me? Sorry, it doesn't work that way... It has to be free speech for all.

Have we always honored that in this country? No, of course not... we are, after all, human... we do fail to achieve perfection... but the fact of failure from time to time does not negate the ideal, it merely shows us that we need to work harder towards that idea.


-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

What makes free speech for all "perfection?" Do we not hold an individual's freedom in high esteem? Yet if an individual breaks the law we take away their freedom (ie. jail). Why should freedom of speech be any different? Abuse it and lose it.

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

But Dave, what constitutes an "abuse" of free speech?

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

Slander is recognized as an abuse even in the good ol' U.S. Many countries outlaw hate-speech, and I don't see any reason to allow it, personally. Here in Canada we used to have a law against "false news," but it was struck down (I think).

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

How do they define hate speech? Isn't there a problem with gray areas? Where is the line that crosses from one form of speech to the other and how is it decided?

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

Slander is recognized as a grounds for civil suit in the U.S., but you still haven't defined the standard for what constitutes abuse of free speech. Applying civil legal standards as a justification of criminal legal standards is, in my opinion, a circular argument.

Also, I may be wrong about this, but I don't think that slander is a criminal offense in either Canada or Britain, either.

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

Speeding isn't a criminal offense either. What's your point?

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

Actually, speeding is a criminal offense in places where there is a speed limit (this includes most U.S. states and at least some Canadian provinces if not all of them). My point was that slander is not a criminal act, and I'm not aware of any Western countries which consider it to be so.

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

But the original question had nothing to do with what is or isn't (or should be) a criminal act. Why are you stuck on that irrelevant issue?

We are going far, far astray here,... nevertheless:

1. Speeding is not a criminal offense in Canada. A criminal offense is an offense listed in the Criminal Code. Speeding is not in there. Speeding is covered by the (various) Motor Vehicle Acts. You are not arrested for speeding and it does not give you a criminal record. As for the US, I can't say. It sounds nuts to me though, but who knows? You Americans are a wacky bunch. ;-)

2. Slander is not a criminal act. Agreed. That does not mean you can go around slandering people with impunity. Hopefully you will be stopped for this abuse of free speech.

I thought we were talking about what constitutes abuse of free speech. Whatever those abuses are, they do not have to be criminalized to stop them. And even if they did, how is that relevant to what constitutes abuse?

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

Dave, perhaps I'm not using correct legal terminology, but the distinction I'm trying to make is between civil proceedings, which involve litigation between two private entities, and "criminal" proceedings, which I am considering to be litigation in response to the breaking of a law.

My understanding is that in the U.S., Canada, Britain, etc., slander is not against the law, but it can be used as a basis for a civil suit if the plaintiff can demonstrate that it resulted in financial loss for them. I may be wrong about this, but have not been able to find any information to the contrary online.

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

Well, that was fruitful. :-)

-- Anonymous, July 20, 2000

If you're concerned that this discussion isn't proceeding in a fruitful direction, Dave, why not answer the question Cory and I have both posed to you: how do you define what is hate speech?

And getting back to the original question, the trial I alluded to in my entry did not involve hate speech laws--the man was charged and convicted of violating the "false news" law you mentioned. Should this be illegal, too?

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

I suppose we could define hate speech as that which promotes hatred toward an identifiable group. (We might want to specify which groups.)

We could define "false news" as the willful spreading of misinformation. And yes, false news should be illegal.

I'm not sure where you want to go with those, but there you are.

I completely blew my justification of "this Genie is already out of the bottle," so let me try again: There are already exceptions to your First Amendment protections for many types of speech. What's one more exception?

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

"Identifiable groups"...so if I say "all telemarketers are bottom- sucking scum" is that hate speech?

You say hate speech "promotes hatred" (which is also a circular definition). Does that mean that it matters who I say it to? If someone is a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and I say "black people smell kind of funny" is that hate speech, because it confirms an already existing hatred? Conversely, if that Klansman tells me that all black people deserve to die, is that hate speech? Because if he did, it certainly wouldn't encourage me to hate black people--it would encourage me to hate him!

Which brings me to my next point, which is that I seriously doubt that any significant degree of racism derives from people making public derisive statements about certain racial groups--in my experience, it usually starts at home, or as a result of childhood conflict with members of other races in school. Or do you think that should be covered, too? If a black woman tells her daughter in the privacy of her own home that she shouldn't date white men, is that hate speech?

By making this sort of ignorance illegal, you are making it a forbidden fruit. The key to overcoming hatred is more information, not less.

As for the "willful spreading of misinformation" I would contend that this would not include holocaust revisionists, because they truly believe what they are saying. However, this didn't help Ernst Zundel, who was convicted under this law twice before it was overturned.

Finally, yes, there are exceptions to the First Amendment, but that doesn't mean that future exceptions shouldn't be held to a high standard. Hate speech and misinformation do not meet the standard of the other exceptions in my opinion.

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

'hate speech' is itself such a grotesque concept. are certain groups to be given special protection? what groups are open season? slander and libel at least are based on the ideas of false information causing some actual damage. when does historical research or ideology become hate sppech? the aztecs were monstrously bloodthirsty ritual cannibals. does saying that count as hate speech? saying "the Jews control the media" is a statement that I suppose could be answered empirically in terms of the religion of stockholders and corporate officers, but just what would "the Jews" mean in such a context? Is that hate speech or an empirical statement which may or may not be true.

and how *does* one 'abuse' free speech?

there should be no limits on speech, only on action: I'm a purist about that.

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

I had hoped that by saying "we might want to specify which groups," I could head off the tiresome "identifiable groups" debate. We've covered that ground before...

The Canadian Charter of rights and freedoms uses the following language in its equality rights section (15), "race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability." That's one definition. I believe the American anti-hate-crime laws use something similar. That ground has been amply covered.

How do you get that "promotes hatred" is a circular definition? Do you not know what 'promote' means? Here's one definition:
promote: to contribute to the growth or prosperity of
That is different from simply airing one's views.

Do you not think a site like godhatesfags.com contributes to the environment in which a Matthew Shepard is pistol-whipped and strung up to die on a Wyoming rail fence for being gay?

It should be shut down. It's the only civilized thing to do.

Lohr: do you think it would be okay if I published an article about you having sex with sheep? (slander) Would it be okay if I told someone to poison your food? (incitement) These are currently not protected by the first amendment. Are you sure you want no limits?

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

You wrote: "hate speech [is] that which promotes hatred towards an identifiable group." That's a circular definition, because you are using "hatred" to define "hate." We all know the dictionary definition of hate, so you can spare us that--the troublesome issue is finding a legal standard which could objectively distinguish hate from mere dislike.

"Promote" is similarly problematic. You seem to be saying that it's all right to air your views, as long as they don't promote hatred, but how can you know how your remarks will be interpreted by others? Isn't that out of your control? If I tell someone who hates black people that I've dated black men, mightn't waving the taboo of interracial dating in his face contribute to his hatred of blacks?

As for godhatesfags.com contributing to the death of Matthew Shepard, well, maybe. But do you really think that shutting down the site will change those people's minds? If anything, I'd guess it would make them more resolute in their beliefs. It's not the words which are dangerous, it's the thoughts behind the words. You can enforce laws about what people are allowed to say, but you can't legislate what people think.

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

No, I don't think shutting down the site will change those people's minds -- and that's not the point. The point is not to change people's beliefs, but to prevent the proliferation of beliefs that have no place in a civilized society.

As for all your quibbling about definitions, you seem to be saying hate-speech laws would be difficult to draft and/or interpret. Indeed they would. So what? Many laws fall under that category. Indeed, the first amendment itself is open to such quibbling (how do you define 'religion'?), and the courts have expended consider energies in its interpretation, which has changed somewhat over time.

Your argument is tantamount to Thomas Jefferson saying to the other founding fathers, "we should forget about this constitution thing. It's far too difficult an undertaking."

Is that any reason to abandon the path of righteousness? Because it's too hard? That whole line of reasoning has no merit at all.

Besides, even if we can't come up with an all-encompassing law, it's easy to draw up much narrower laws. We can specifically outlaw holocaust revisionism, for example. It's not ideal, but it's a start.

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

My point, Dave is that the reason why it's hard to distinguish "hate speech" from merely unpleasant speech is that there really is no difference between the two.

It's interesting that you bring up Mein Kampf, Cory, because I was just reading an article about it last week. I didn't realize this, but the Bavarian Finance Ministry oversees the copyright to the book and there are only three authorized editions of the book published worldwide: the American and British editions of the English translation and a new Hebrew translation being published in Israel (incidentally, the American translation is published by my former employer Houghton Mifflin Company). The book was required reading in one of my high school history classes.

-- Anonymous, July 21, 2000

Dave-- an article about my having sex with sheep would be actionable if it could be shown to be untrue and to have caused me actual damage. That's about , ultimately... Telling others to poison my food? Not actionable unless someone actually *tries* it... Many of us walk around saying that so-and-so (politician, singer, co-worker, etc.) should be beaten with sticks; are people who do that guilty of hate speech?

"Speech that should not be tolerated in a civilized society"? What does that mean? Who gets to define that? What pressure groups get to choose?

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

Lohr, the same questions could be asked of speech that is already not protected. So what? (Also, just so you know, nobody has to actually try to poison your food for my advocacy of such to be actionable. There are plenty of laws against conspiracy and incitement.)

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

Dave-- conspiracy would only apply if there was some tangible act in furtherance of poisoning my food; incitement only applies if there is a clear'n'present danger of someone doing it.

I become absolutely icy-angry at the thought that some thoughts, some theories, some ideologies are so distasteful that they cannot be uttered. To punish a net posting or a book or a lecture-- that sets my teeth on edge. Someone gets to decide which thoughts are Bad. Not acts, not damage, not financial loss-- *thoughts*. I won't grant someone that power.

You may feel that in a 'civilized' society Good Folk don't say Naughty Things-- or shouldn't be allowed to say them. But I cannot accept a society afraid of *ideas*. Would you find it intolerable that someone expressed the same thoughts in letters to friends? To a group of friends at a bar?

If X wants to have a website saying that all Jews are part of an evil conspiracy or that all black people are evil Martians-- well, good for X. He's amusing, if nothing else. If X kills someone, or tells Y directly to kill Z and Y does, then he should be liable.

I cannot accept a society that finds to be intolerable.

-- Anonymous, July 28, 2000

We always have to keep in mind the one true value of free speech. As long as we have it, then we can see the truely dangerous people and ideas out in the light of day instead of leting them lurk and fester in dark shadowy corners. Such was the case of one young Austrian who had some radical ideas and belonged to a political party that not many people cared for. The goverment outlawed the party but unfortunately such suppression only allowed it to gain numbers and popularity until when they emerged into the open again they were elected into office. After that point Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party became a major part of history. As long as we can see the dangerous ideas in the open, we can see the flaws and through open debate or ridicule, watch as these poorly constructed ideas fall apart in the light.

-- Anonymous, May 30, 2002

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