The New German Law against Hate Speech

Here’s the news story:

New German Law Forces Facebook To Remove Hate Speech or Pay Over $50 Million — In an address on Friday, one of the main supporters of the bill, Justice Minister Heiko Maas, said, “Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins,” explaining that hateful speech only serves to silence free speech. “To protect the freedom of expression, we must prevent a climate of fear and intimidation.” [Gizmodo, 30 June 2017]

Who decides what is and is not hate speech?

In Germany, homeschooling is illegal. Wikipedia says: “Parents violating the laws have primarily or most prominently been Christians seeking a more religious education than that offered by the schools. Sanctions against these parents have included fines of thousands of euros, successful legal actions to remove children from the parents’ custody, and prison sentences. It has been estimated that 600 to 1,000 German children are homeschooled, despite its illegality.”

What if a Facebook group in Germany promotes homeschooling? Is that speech illegal? If it isn’t illegal now, it soon could be. Once you start outlawing hate speech, the definition quickly expands to include anything that offends the prevailing culture. And at that point, people who hold minority opinions become outcasts and criminals. The outlawing of hate speech quickly turns into the outlawing of free speech.

In the first quote above, “Justice Minister” Maas claims that “Freedom of expression ends where criminal law begins.” If so, then how can unjust laws be changed in a democratic society? If you can’t use freedom of expression, once a law is passed, it cannot change. Germany, during the Nazi regime, is commonly cited as an example of unjust laws. Much of the crimes against humanity committed by Hitler were legal under German law.

Maas also says that “To protect the freedom of expression, we must prevent a climate of fear and intimidation.” And yet this law itself creates a climate of fear and intimidation. Social media companies will be afraid of the $50 million Euro fine ($57 million dollars), and so they will be too quick to take down material that may be questionable. They will err on the side of taking down some material that is lawful, so as to avoid the immense fine. And individuals in Germany will be afraid to speak freely, lest they be charged with a crime.

What if material, illegal under the German law, is posted in another nation? Does the German law still apply? If so, then Germany is proposing that the worldwide internet and everyone posting on it is subject to their laws. It is a legalistic and absurd attempt to control speech throughout the world. Why should Germany decide, for other nations, what is and is not hate speech? Why should any government be given that power, even over its own people?

It seems clear that if any type of speech were truly objectively an expression of hatred, then it would be immoral. But should it be illegal? Blasphemy is certainly always gravely immoral. But in nations where blasphemy is illegal, the government can stand in judgment over the religious beliefs and expressions of the people. And that is not a good role for government.

Similarly, though real hate speech is gravely immoral, government should not have the role to decide what is and is not hate speech. For a wrong decision ends up doing very much harm. And a right decision does not remove hatred from anyone’s heart or mind.

Consider that, in France, certain types of speech against abortion are now criminal. France is a mostly Catholic nation, and yet somehow the government had decided that speaking against abortion is a crime. What will happen if every nation on earth decides that the government must define what is and is not hate speech, and must punish offenders? They will mistakenly criminalize many legitimate forms of speech, which are not really hate speech, resulting in a climate of fear and intimidation.

Is hate speech protected by the U.S. Constitution’s right to free speech? The Supreme Court says, “Yes.”

“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence.” Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy (Matal v. Tam)

Worse still, the decision of government as to what is criminal hate speech will ultimately come from the emotions of the moment in the culture, not from wise and prudential rulers, not from an enlightened and compassionate electorate. And very soon afterward, speech that expresses the traditional beliefs of Christians will be labeled as hate speech. Wherever abortion and contraception are considered to be rights, they will quickly outlaw any expression of the Christian understanding that these acts are grave sins. The Catholic Christian view of sexual ethics will soon be labeled as hate speech. And anything at all contrary to the prevailing culture on any topic will be seen as hatred.

Do you disagree with the new secular teachings on gender ideology? It will be so easy for government to claim that this disagreement is hatred. Do you hold the traditional view of marriage, as between one man and one woman? This view is already said to be discrimination and hate. So when hate speech is outlawed, it becomes merely a way for the prevailing views of sinful secular society to criminalize all contrary ideas, especially those of devout believers.

Society is becoming worse and worse, as the years pass. What will the world be like in a hundred years, or a few hundred years? It will be unimaginably wicked.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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1 Response to The New German Law against Hate Speech

  1. Mark P. says:

    Hopefully we will not reach that point in America, where the federal government enacts a law to fine people for using an ill-conceived definition of hate speech. However, the “court of public opinion” is surely alert and active, and at times acting with the authority of an actual law. We saw this a few years ago when a young woman defended traditional marriage during a beauty pageant. Recently the head of a large internet company, when it was discovered he had donated money to defend traditional marriage, was basically ostracized from the Silicon Valley community. And then we see major entertainers, or even states and large municipalities, refusing to perform in or allow travel to states that have enacted laws which keep bathrooms separated by birth gender. Or, on a smaller scale, a few stories have gone public about florists or bakers refusing to provide goods for a same-sex wedding, and being sued. Those are just a few examples. Even people who make a statement that is just a difference of opinion from prevailing culture, say in an interview or an internet post, are almost immediately corrected by the self-appointed custodians of tolerance, and forced to apologize and rescind their statement, lest they be cast out of their professional communities. So even now, despite no outright labeling of certain religious views as unlawful hate speech, the consequences of expressing them can be detrimental.

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