It's no longer possible to rely 100% on ads to keep our organization going. If you believe in why Films For Action exists, we hope you'll become a supporter on Patreon. A monthly donation of $1, $3, $5 or more per month will really help!
Germany's Check on Free Speech
In the United States, hate speech is only illegal if it incites immediate violence. In Germany, however, one can serve up to five years in prison for Volksverhetzung (incitement to hatred). Is free speech an absolute, or must it be checked?
Germany's Check on Free Speech
By Greg Lepore / filmsforaction.org
Mar 20, 2016

Free speech is a staple of democracy around the world, and societies have gone to extreme lengths to keep it protected and preserved.  At times, however, these same societies have discovered that complete freedom of speech has the potential be more damaging than constructive.

            When does free speech become hate speech? This question is not easily answered, and for each person asked, a new definition of hate speech is written. One thing is for certain, though. Whether it is directed at an individual or a group of individuals, the ramifications of hate speech are far-reaching and long-lasting. The entire community is afflicted, divided, embarrassed, and damaged irreparably for the immediate future.

The American Bar Association defines hate speech as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” Other democracies define hate speech in similar terms. However, as heinous as the definition sounds, hate speech remains protected by free speech in many modern democracies.

In the United States, for example, Supreme Court rulings over the years have determined that hate speech is protected by the First Amendment so long as that speech does not incite immediate violence. To be sure, there have been segments of American society that have attempted to circumvent this legal quagmire. In the latter part of the 20th century, nearly 400 American universities adopted speech codes outlawing hate speech on their campuses. The legality of these codes has not faired well when tested in court.

In countries where hate speech has led to traumatic events, one finds that it has been completely outlawed. Germany, for example, harbors one of the world’s toughest legal codes pertaining to hate speech as a result of the country’s experience with Nazi propaganda. While not exercised often, the dominance of this legal code has entered the limelight as a result of the current refugee crisis.

Lutz Bachman, founder of the Islamophobic group Pegida, will stand trial for hate speech crimes related to a Facebook post in which he referred to Syrian refugees as “cattle” and “scum.” If convicted, Bachman could serve up to five years in prison. In Germany, Volksverhetzung (incitement to hatred) is “to publicly incite hatred against parts of the population or to call for violent or arbitrary measures against them or to insult, maliciously slur or defame them in a manner violating their (constitutionally protected) human dignity.”

Critics contend that Volksverhetzung limits free speech and therefore cannot be good for democracy. But for the majority of Germans, it is a necessary check on free speech. Today’s Germans grow up with the constant reminder of what can happen if hatred is allowed to spread throughout a country due to unchecked free speech.

Whether Volksverhetzung is a just law in a democratic society remains up for debate. Is hate speech protected by freedom of speech, or is it a perversion of one of liberty’s dearest principles? You be the judge.

0.0 ·
0
Featured Films
The Staging Post: Courageous People Never Give Up! (2017)
61 min The Staging Post follows two Afghan Hazara refugees, Muzafar and Khadim. Stuck in Indonesia after Australia 'stopped the boats' and facing many years in limbo, they built a community and started the school which inspired a refugee education revolution. A real-life...
Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective (2015)
92 min Humanity is more than ever threatened by its own actions; we hear a lot about the need to minimize footprints and to reduce our impact. But what if our footprints were beneficial? What if we could meet human needs while increasing the health and well-being of our...
Within Reach (2013)
87 min Within Reach explores one couple's pedal-powered search for a place to call home. Mandy and Ryan gave up their jobs, cars, and traditional houses to 'bike-pack' 6500 miles around the USA seeking sustainable community. Rather than looking in a traditional neighborhood, they...
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers...
Fall and Winter (2013)
102 min This stunning film takes you on a hypnotic journey, reaching to the past to understand the origins of the catastrophic environmental transitions we now face. Over two years, director Matt Anderson traveled 16,000 miles to document firsthand our modern industrial world and the...
The Economics of Happiness (2011)
65 min Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There...
Trending Today


Love Films For Action? Become a Patron!

Our Patreon campaign is now live! We hope you'll be among the first to support this new direction for Films For Action. The goal is to go 100% ad-free by next year and become 100% member supported. A monthly pledge of just $1 -5 per month x a few thousand awesome people will ensure we can continue our work and grow our impact across the world. Click here to join.

Join us on Facebook
Germany's Check on Free Speech