Monday, May 14, 2007

Legislating against hate

As is often the case with political compromise, no side is entirely happy with recommendations for criminalization of hateful speech contained in the Framework decision on Racism and Xenophobia recently adopted by the Council of the European Union. The document calls on the 27 EU member states to act, within the next 2 years, make the following "intentional conduct" crimes punishable by 1-3 years in prison:
First, hate speech:

Publicly inciting to violence or hatred even by dissemination or distribution of tracts, pictures or other material, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin.

Second, acts often given the shorthand name "Holocaust denial":

Publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising: (1) crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined in the Statute of the International Criminal Court (Articles 6, 7 and 8) directed at a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or ethnic origin; and (2) crimes defined by the Tribunal of Nuremberg (Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, London Agreement of 1945) directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or ethnic origin.

Although proponents praised the measure, in some countries national laws already are tougher. Some critics expressed concern that the phrasing of this last paragraph -- inserted to appease Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavian countries -- invites loopholes:
Member states may choose to punish only conduct which is either carried out in a manner likely to disturb public order or which is threatening, abusive or insulting.
Others cautioned that the proposal might invite suppression of speech that ought to be protected.
Sparking controversy on the other side of the Atlantic, meanwhile, is legislation that criminalizes not hateful speech, but hateful acts: soon after the U.S. House of Representatives voted 237-180 to add gender and sexual orientation to the categories that federal law already protects against hate crimes, the White House signaled that if the bill passes the Senate, President George W. Bush will veto it. Federal protection of these 2 groups is not needed, the White House notice maintained; conversely, it further faulted the bill for leaving out other groups, such as the elderly and military personnel. The threatened veto would be the 3d of Bush's 6-year tenure. The other 2? Stem cell research and troop withdrawal from Iraq.

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