A Note from Our Editor: “Hate Speech” -- By: John Warwick Montgomery

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 11:2 (Jan 2014)
Article: A Note from Our Editor: “Hate Speech”
Author: John Warwick Montgomery

A Note from Our Editor: “Hate Speech”

John Warwick Montgomery

Readers of the Global Journal are well-acquainted with the Editor’s appreciation of foreign law (see, for example, our Introduction to Vol. 8, No. 1). We believe that every legal system must be judged by the absolute standards of God’s revealed word, the Holy Scriptures, and, if this is done, the result can be that principles in another legal system or in international law may turn out to be more in accord with the divine will than what can be found in American law. However, the reverse can also be the case, and a sad illustration thereof is the position of European legal systems on the matter of hate speech and “negationism” (denying historical facts such as genocide).

In American law, the Federal Constitution’s First Amendment is the determining factor: freedom of speech, expression, and assembly is a primary value. True, these are not unqualified. “Falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing panic” is not protected and one will go to jail if he or she irresponsibly does such a thing (O.W. Holmes, Jr., in Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 [1919]). If there is a serious danger of riot and affray, public speech may be restrained. But where such limiting conditions do not exist, and when the defamation of another is not in question, one is legally allowed to express one’s views—even when they are false, obnoxious, or hurtful to others. Thus, in a famous case ultimately decided by the U. S. Supreme Court, Nazis were allowed with impunity to parade through a predominately Jewish suburb of Chicago; though obnoxious and hurtful to the feelings of many, the philosophy of the marchers created no danger of insurrection (National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 [1977]). And in a very recent case, an anti-gay congregation suffered no legal condemnation for expressing their opposition to homosexuality at the burial of soldiers who had died defending their country (Snyder v. Phelps et al., No. 09–751, decided 2 Mar. 2011). On balance, freedom of speech was more important than hurt feelings.

But in Europe, the perspective is very different. I recently attended a conference sponsored by the Criminal Law Institute of the Paris Bar on “Pénalisation de la Négation des Génocides.” Why genocide? Because the French Parliament passed a law on 23 January criminalising the denial of the Turkish genocide of Armenians in 1915 to 1923. (“How’s that?,” you say. “Why are the French concerned with this item of ancient history?” Answer: a considerable number of Armenian refugees of the Turkish persecution settled in France—including the family of the archetypal French singer Charles Aznavour—and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is dead against Turkey’s joining the European Union. On the Turk...

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