This is a case that came down just before the New Year. I think it’s worth discussing here because blogs, of course, cross borders. American bloggers are likely to think that American concepts of free expression are likely to be shared with other industrialized Western countries. But that’s not true at all.
Eugene Volokh on the Volokh Conspiracy explains the legal angle with a post that provides a quick look at recent blasphemy prosecutions around Europe, as well as a discussion of America’s history of criminalizing blasphemy back in the early 1800s.
As far as the prosecution of Sabaditsch-Wolff, the defendant herself explains what happened in an interview:
What was the reason for this conviction, you may ask. Well, during the course of my seminars, I mentioned the choking EU directive “Framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia,” and in order to illustrate my point I told the audience about a conversation I had with my sister and how she believed that one should find a different word for Mohammed’s actions with Aisha. I said, “How does one name what he did if not call it pedophilia?” And this sentence got me convicted, for I am allowed by law to say that Mohammed had sex with a young girl, but I may not qualify this behavior as this is deemed “excessive” and thus denigrating.
It would be unthinkable for anyone in the United States to get in legal trouble for something like this. But, as Commenter Parker said in the thread after Volokh’s post, “This is Europe we are speaking of. Europe has a different idea of human rights and especially a different idea of the freedom of speech.”
True that. With the similarity in the media, press, and arts between the U.S. and Europe, you could easily assume that what’s sacrosanct as a matter of American expressive freedom would be protected in Europe. Just about anyone could guess that there’s no right to bear arms across Europe. But with free speech, you would be forgiven for thinking they are basically the same. And it’s probably true that 99% of what is protected in America is protected in EU countries. But once you get toward the fringes, you’ll realize that freedom of expression in Europe is actually very different. Free speech is at the apex of American freedoms and values. In the European scheme of values, there is the idea that free speech must often be subservient in the hierarchy of human rights. The Sabaditsch-Wolff case illustrates, I think, the European impulse that the right to be free from religious insult is considered as or more important than the right to be free to say whatever you want.