Europe's ever-steady march towards illiberal, totalitarian nonsense continues apace. The European Court of Human Rights ruled this week that defaming the Prophet Muhammad is not protected speech. More specifically, the court said an “Austrian woman’s conviction for calling the prophet of Islam a pedophile didn’t breach her freedom of speech,” the Associated Press reported.
The ECHR explained in its ruling that Austrian courts had “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected.” The woman explained in 2009 during a seminar discussion that the Prophet Muhammad’s marriage to a six-year-old girl was basically “pedophilia.”
"A 56-year-old and a 6-year-old? What do you call that? Give me an example? What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?" she said.
The woman was charged and convicted by a Vienna court in 2011 of “disparaging religious doctrines.” The woman was ordered to pay a $547 fine, plus costs, the AP notes. An Austrian appeals court upheld the 2011 ruling.
On Thursday, the ECHR explained in its ruling that the Austrian court’s decision “served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace.”
The seven-judge panel also argued in its ruling that there’s a difference between child marriage and pedophilia:
[B]y accusing Muhammad of paedophilia, the applicant had merely sought to defame him, without providing evidence that his primary sexual interest in Aisha had been her not yet having reached puberty or that his other wives or concubines had been similarly young. In particular, the applicant had disregarded the fact that the marriage with Aisha had continued until the Prophet's death, when she had already turned eighteen and had therefore passed the age of puberty.
A couple of thoughts on this.
First, I agree with Reason’s Jacob Sullum, who argued in 2015 that "[s]acrilege may upset people, but it does not violate their rights. By abandoning that distinction, avowed defenders of Enlightenment values capitulate to the forces of darkness." Agreed. Especially insofar as this woman’s case is concerned, she didn’t even remotely hint at violence. She was merely provocative. Are we really going to get into the business of policing unkind speech?
Second, I’m having a difficult time squaring the ECHR’s acknowledgment that it’s fair to criticize organized religion with its argument that "presenting objects of religious worship in a provocative way capable of hurting the feelings of the followers of that religion could be conceived as a malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance.” "It’s OK, but only when it’s not OK" is not exactly solid, ironclad legal reasoning — in fact, it's meaningless drivel, bound to be misinterpreted, misused, and abused in future cases.
Third, let’s pour out a tall one for the Charlie Hebdo dead. 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.”
Lastly, say a prayer for all current and future outspoken critics and apostates from Islam. An ironically-named human rights court just ruled this week that they're on their own.