DANIEL VAUGHAN: European Court destroys free speech to protect blasphemy against Islam

October 29, 2018

The European Court of Human Rights refused to review whether an Austrian court had stripped a woman of her freedom of expression when she was criminally charged for making statements of “disparaging religious doctrines.” It’s just another sign that the far-left bureaucrats running the European Union fail to protect any individual rights.

The woman at the center of the case was criminally charged under Austrian blasphemy laws, which exist despite the fact that freedom of expression is outlined in the country’s constitution. Section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code states in part:

Anyone who publicly disparages a person or thing that is the object of worship of a domestic church or religious society, or a doctrine, [or other] behavior is likely to attract legitimate offense…

That clause allows the state to target speech and punishes anyone making disparaging remarks against certain faiths. In the case at hand, the woman led an informational seminar on Islam in 2009 on Islam, wherein she stated that the Prophet Muhammad was a pedophile because one of the girls he married was a 6-year-old.

The Austrian courts fined her the equivalent of $612 in U.S. dollars plus court costs. But because Austria is also a member of the European Union, the woman appealed the ruling of her country to the European Court of Human Rights saying that her free expression rights under the EU Charter were violated.

Relying explicitly on Article 10 of the EU Charter, which states in part, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” she argued that the Austrian blasphemy codes violated her free speech protections in the EU.

But the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) disagreed with her argument in Judgement E.S. vs. Austria and overruled those free expression rights, arguing that religions within the EU can “not expect to be exempt from criticism.”

But while that may be true, they say it’s important for states to step in when certain speech may “incite religious intolerance.”

And the reason they’re worried about religious intolerance? (Because who are we to judge if Muhammed had a child bride?) The court said: “The subject matter of the instant case was of a particularly sensitive nature, and that the (potential) effects of the impugned statements, to a certain degree, depended on the situation in the respective country where the statements were made, at the time and in the context they were made.”

In other words, what happened in Muhammed’s time may have been okay; who are we to judge? Also, if you criticize Islam too harshly, it could cause riots or terrorist attacks in Austria, and since that’s a possibility, state authorities have the authority to crack down on free expression.

The problem isn’t the people who could be incited to violence by the speech; it’s the speaker, according to the EU.

The court further fretted that the statements from the woman accused “had not been made in an objective manner,” and “could only be understood as having been aimed at demonstrating that Muhammad was not worthy of worship.” They also accused her of purposely lying about Muhammed by calling him a pedophile.

It’s objectively true that Muhammed’s wife Aisha was just 6 years old when he married her — the problem the court has is with her calling him a pedophile. Our source for the age of the marriage is Aisha herself, who says, “The Messenger of God married me when I was six, and consummated the marriage with me when I was nine.”

I’ll let you decide what label you’d like to slap on that quote. But according to the ECHR, it’s highly inflammatory to suggest that that’s pedophilia, and anyone saying that it is should be subject to blasphemy laws.

In American law, the truth is an absolute defense in libel, slander, and other free speech cases. In the EU, truth can land you a fine or a jail sentence.

Perhaps the single most insulting line in the entire case came when the ECHR praised the Austrian courts:

[I]n the instant case the domestic courts carefully balanced the applicant’s right to freedom of expression with the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected, and to have religious peace preserved in Austrian society.

The message here: it’s more important that we don’t offend Muslims in the EU than it is to protect free speech.

This ruling comes just a few years after the deadly shooting at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper office in France. As Becket Adams pointed out, the ECHR is telling the 12 late satirists at Charlie Hebdo, who were killed at work by two radical jihadists, and their 11 injured colleagues: “Sorry, fellas, but you should’ve known better. Those Muhammad cartoons aren’t protected speech, and what’s important here is that the world knows that provocative statements are a violation of the ‘spirit of tolerance.’”

The left spends considerable amounts of time castigating society for blaming the victim in a variety of instances. Yet in the EU, if someone is attacked for inflammatory speech against a certain religious group, the ECHR is telling them: “You had it coming.”

The EU isn’t chilling free speech; they’re encasing it in carbonite and selling it off. The lesson is clear: if you want to protect your religion from any inflammatory attacks from anyone, start threatening violent protests. Liberal society in the EU will run away, instead of protecting individual freedom.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.