Another Reason to Love the First Amendment

Another Reason to Love the First Amendment December 29, 2011

Austria continues to have a serious problem with freedom of speech. The nation that put David Irving in prison for three years for Holocaust denial has now fined Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff for the crime of “denigrating religious beliefs.”

But Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted of the second charge against her, namely “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion,” according to Section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code.

The judge ruled that Sabaditsch-Wolff committed a crime by stating in her seminars about Islam that the Islamic prophet Mohammed was a pedophile (Sabaditsch-Wolff’s actual words were “Mohammed had a thing for little girls.”)

The judge rationalized that Mohammed’s sexual contact with nine-year-old Aisha could not be considered pedophilia because Mohammed continued his marriage to Aisha until his death. According to this line of thinking, Mohammed had no exclusive desire for underage girls; he was also attracted to older females because Aisha was 18 years old when Mohammed died.

The judge ordered Sabaditsch-Wolff to pay a fine of €480 ($625) or an alternative sentence of 60 days in prison. Moreover, she was required to pay the costs of the trial.

And it’s not the first time this has happened:

Sabaditsch-Wolff is not the only Austrian to run afoul of the country’s anti-free speech laws. In January 2009, Susanne Winter, an Austrian politician and Member of Parliament, was convicted for the “crime” of saying that “in today’s system” the Mohammed would be considered a “child molester,” referring to his marriage to Aisha. Winter was also convicted of “incitement” for saying that Austria faces an “Islamic immigration tsunami.” Winters was ordered to pay a fine of €24,000 ($31,000), and received a suspended three-month prison sentence.

When David Irving was convicted and sentenced in 2006, one of his fiercest critics took a stand against such censorship:

But the author and academic Deborah Lipstadt, who Irving unsuccessfully sued for libel in the UK in 2000 over claims that he was a Holocaust denier, said she was dismayed.

“I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don’t believe in winning battles via censorship… The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth,” she told the BBC News website.

She’s right. If Sabaditsch-Wolff is wrong, prove her wrong. Giving government the power to decide which opinions are too controversial to express is simply too dangerous and too unjust to allow.

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  • Reginald Selkirk

    If Mohammed wants to sue for defamation, I say let him try. I don’t see why anyone else should have standing to do so.

  • Olav


    Giving government the power to decide which opinions are too controversial to express is simply too dangerous and too unjust to allow.


    But you started by mentioning that scum David Irving.

    I think the criminalisation of holocaust denial and other (neo-) Nazi propaganda has not been a bad thing, especially in those countries where Nazism originated or had a substantial following. Of course you are aware what has happened here in Europe in the thirties and forties. There should be no tolerance for people who want to revive that murderous ideology.

    Perhaps by now these anti-Holocaust-denial laws are no longer as useful as they were. I should like to think that we can finally abolish them because we do not longer need them, not because we now think it acceptable to promote Nazism and genocide. However I am rather pessimistic about not needing them anymore.

    For your information, Irving never spent three years in prison. He was released and kicked out of Austria after serving one-third of his sentence.

    Fining someone for insulting a fictional character from an ancient book is madness, of course. I am certainly not saying the Austrian laws and justice system are somehow perfect. But at least it was a different law that was used there.

  • nickmatzke

    Und zat ist zee difference between zee British/Americans und zee Austrians!

  • interrobang

    I have to agree with David Marjanovic on the subject of Austrian/German laws against preaching Holocaust denial:

    The Austrian law against “making National Socialism appear harmless”, and the similar German law, rightly assumes that if you’ve gone to school in the country, you can’t possibly believe what you say when you violate that law – so you must be lying, and that with the intent to seize power and to immediately abolish the very freedom of speech you hypocritically claim for yourself.

    It’s democracy defending itself. We can perhaps discuss if such a law is still necessary in 2011 (making Stalinism appear harmless has never been illegal, because there simply haven’t ever been enough Stalinists in Austria to present a danger), but it’s not a case of “ZOMGZ freedom of speech”.

    I’m not a free speech absolutist, far from it, mostly because I’m Canadian. The way I look at it is, if you’re preaching hate like that, you’ve abrogated the responsibility that comes with speech in a civilised society. (And I’m still fucking happy that that piece of human scum Ernst Zundel got kicked out of Canada and is rotting in a German jail. Good. He and his band of sycophants were causing a shitload of trouble in the world’s most multicultural city, and it’s good he’s gone and they’re scattered to whatever rotting carcasses they slithered out of in the first place.)

  • rogerallen

    Und zat ist zee difference between zee British/Americans und zee Austrians!

    The other difference is how close they were to the holocaust and how scared of a recurrence they are.

    Presumably the muslim claim that Jesus wasnot the son of god but a mere prophet and wasn’t crucified is also “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion”. If I were Austrian, I’d advise my children to become lawyers. There’s going to be a lot of work for them.

  • d cwilson


    Let’s not forget the references in the Talmud that refer to Jesus as a sorcerer who deceived Israel.

    Does Austria really want to go down that road (again)?

  • d cwilson

    I really think Austria and Germany can safely repeal their anti-Holocaust denial laws. Just treat them like flat-earthers and cranks deserving of derision and mockery.

  • Akira MacKenzie

    Dear Germanic Nations:

    While we appreciate that you feel sorry for your substantial role in the World War II and the Holocaust and are willing to take responsibility for the horredus misdeeds of your ancestors, we, your friends and allies, think you’re taking this a little too far.

    In short: We get it! You’re not “like that” anymore!

    Now, stop being a bunch of assholes and start behaving like a proper democracy.


    The rest of the Western world.

  • Olav

    nickmatzke says:

    Und zat ist zee difference between zee British/Americans und zee Austrians!

    Sure. Brits and Americans do not have any problems that are unique to their countries. Also, they are perfect democracies.

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