I’ve been an outspoken critic of laws that criminalize Holocaust denial in many countries around the world, but it appears that those laws are even worse than I thought. In Germany, you apparently can’t even compare something to the Holocaust without being censored by the government. Volokh quotes a German court ruling that was recently upheld by the European Court of Human Rights:
6. The applicant association is the German branch of the animal rights organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). It pursues, inter alia, the aims of preventing animal suffering and of encouraging the public to abstain from using animal products.
7. In March 2004 the applicant association planned to start an advertising campaign under the head “The Holocaust on your plate”. The intended campaign, which had been carried out in a similar way in the United States of America, consisted of a number of posters, each of which bore a photograph of concentration camp inmates along with a picture of animals kept in mass stocks, accompanied by a short text. One of the posters showed a photograph of emaciated, naked concentration camp inmates alongside a photograph of starving cattle under the heading “walking skeletons”. Other posters showed a photograph of piled up human dead bodies alongside a photograph of a pile of slaughtered pigs under the heading “final humiliation” and of rows of inmates lying on stock beds alongside rows of chicken in laying batteries under the heading “if animals are concerned, everybody becomes a Nazi”. Another poster depicting a starving, naked male inmate alongside a starving cattle bore the title “The Holocaust on your plate” and the text “Between 1938 and 1945, 12 million human beings were killed in the Holocaust. As many animals are killed every hour in Europe for the purpose of human consumption”.
8. In March 2004, three individual persons, P.S., C. K. and S. Korn, filed a request with the Berlin Regional Court to be granted an injunction ordering the applicant association to desist from publishing or from allowing the publication of seven specified posters via the internet, in a public exhibition or in any other form. The plaintiffs were at the time the president and the two vice-presidents of the Central Jewish Council in Germany. All of them had survived the Holocaust when they were children; C.K. lost her family through the Holocaust. They submitted that the intended campaign was offensive and violated their human dignity as well as the personality rights of C. K.’s dead family members.
9. On 18 March 2004 the Berlin Regional Court granted the injunction….
18. However, the Federal Constitutional Court did not find it necessary to decide whether the intended campaign violated the plaintiffs’ human dignity, as the impugned decisions contained sufficient arguments which justified the injunction without reference to a violation of the plaintiff’s human dignity. It was, in particular, acceptable that the domestic courts based their decisions on the assumption that the Basic Law drew a clear distinction between human life and dignity on one side and the interests of animal protection on the other and that the campaign was banalising the fate of the victims of the Holocaust. It was, furthermore, acceptable to conclude that this content of the campaign affected the plaintiffs’ personality rights. Referring to its earlier case law, the Federal Constitutional Court considered that it was part of the self-image of the Jews living in Germany that they belonged to a group which had been sampled out by their fate and that a special moral obligation was owed to them by all others, which formed part of their dignity.
I have little use for PETA and I am a serious carnivore myself. I think their campaign to compare eating meat to the Holocaust is quite silly. But this ruling is even worse. It’s another example of a secular blasphemy law, like a ban on flag burning. And it should be done away with.
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