The German hate speech saga

A federal court in Berlin decided that it was a legitimate expression of an opinion to call a politician a “slut”, “piece of shit”, and “brainless” on Facebook. The politician (who had indeed sued the user) and her supporters are outraged that the court would allow this “hate speech” to exist online.

After having been insulted on social media, senior Green politician Renate Künast took the authors of the comments to court. Describing them as “hate speech”, her claim was that the comments go beyond the purview of free speech.

Künst told the newspaper Zeit:

“Behind these insults – by the way, I think the word is far too weak, since it is verbal violence – there is obviously an incredibly ignorant, women-despising self-conception, which is primarily concerned with intimidating and mentally hurting a hated political opponent.”

However, the judges did not see it that way, and ruled in favour of the defendants. They had acted in accordance of free expression, protected by the German constitution.

After the controversial court decision, the participating judges have to answer for the accusation of bending the law. As it became known in Berlin, Bernard Korn & Partner, a law firm based in the Rhine-Main area, filed a criminal complaint a few days ago. The lawyers suspect political motives behind the verdict, which had caused outrage nationwide.

“We were outraged by the verdict, because we suspect that the judges, based on their political convictions, decided on a simply unjustifiable verdict,” write the lawyers on their homepage.

This issue is personal to me:

I get all types of people in my mentions and inboxes who are very upset, and with a wide array of colourful language going with it. I’ve been insulted so often that you’d need a dictionary to figure out a word that hasn’t been used yet. But as much as I might be offended by some of it, I’m considerably more offended by the idea that the government should be involved in monitoring and policing speech online.

If history didn’t exist, and you were the first person to suggest limitations on free expression for whatever pragmatic reason, then I guess you could make excuses for holding that position. However, if in spite of all the knowledge we have on what happens when government tells you what you can and cannot say, you still support it, then “brainless” most accurately applies to you.

Yes, free speech means that people can insult politicians, be that in public or online. No, that does not mean that the people who defend free speech are in agreement with the words used, or that they share their political opinions.

Defending free speech means defending speech that we do not agree with. It is only through a consistent defence of free expression that we show adherence to whatever is supposed to be left of liberal democracy.

This article was first published by Values4Europe.

Pictures are Creative Commons.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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