Speaking out on ‘hate laws’ and the Holocaust

from William Elperin to the LA Times.

Michael Shermer’s criticism of “hate laws” (Opinion, Feb. 22) is misguided. Free speech has never been absolute, nor should it be.

You may not defame someone without legal consequences. You may not falsely shout “fire” in a crowded theater without legal consequences. You may not incite to riot without legal consequences. Had hate laws been around in Germany during the 1930s, perhaps millions of lives would have been saved. Civilization as we know it will not end because Holocaust denier David Irving is imprisoned for his hate speech.

On the surface, Shermer seems to accept that different legislation has different standards. But then he doesn’t. It is a bit rich for any American to tell others what to make of the Holocaust and how to deal with it. The world is still waiting for the U.S. to come to terms with its own (and rather successful) attempt at genocide in the 19th century.

And how much free speech is there really in the U.S. when it comes to certain issues? The safe bottom line is to let Germans and Austrians decide on their own laws and their own history. After all, Irving could have uttered all his rubbish views safely outside those countries. Instead, he chose to test the Austrian legal system.

RONALD VOPEL

Brussels