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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