Debate Arises on Legality of Holocaust Denial

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 12, 2009 | Go to article overview

Debate Arises on Legality of Holocaust Denial


Byline: Kelly Jane Torrance, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The slaying of a security guard inside the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, apparently by a known anti-Semite, has some asking whether this country should follow Europe's lead and make Holocaust denial a crime and expand laws on hate speech.

Most observers, however, say such a law wouldn't have stopped 88-year-old suspect James W. von Brunn from acting on the hate he had spewed in leaflets and Internet postings for years.

It is illegal to publicly deny the Holocaust in several European nations, including Germany, Austria, France, Belgium and Poland; it is also against the law in Israel. Several other European nations also have laws against inciting hatred, including on the basis of race, religion or sexuality.

Janet Langhart Cohen, on CNN shortly after the attack Wednesday, raised the question of why it's legal in the United States, but not in much of Europe, to say the slaughter of millions of Jews during World War II never happened.

How do we reconcile the righteousness of not allowing this kind of speech and punishing this kind of speech in Europe, and allowing it, even protecting it? wondered Mrs. Cohen, who was on her way to the museum to meet her husband, former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, when the shooting took place.

Mrs. Cohen said the Constitution could prove a barrier to enacting Holocaust denial legislation in this country, a point opponents of such laws make vigorously.

There's no Holocaust clause in the First Amendment, said University of California at Los Angeles Law School professor Eugene Volokh, who has written a textbook on the First Amendment.

Making Holocaust denial illegal could even result in more hate, Mr. Volokh said.

It would create more ethnic tension, he said, adding that groups such as American Indians and Armenians might wonder why genocides against them are not protected. People would ask, 'Why are we outsiders while the Jews are insiders?'"

Hate-monitoring groups agree.

That's not something that in this country, the ADL would support being criminalized, said Steven Freeman, director of the legal affairs department at the Anti-Defamation League.

Each country has its own history and makes decisions about where to draw the line. We shouldn't be second-guessing other countries. But that doesn't mean we can't exercise our own free speech rights to debunk [Holocaust denial] and to talk about how crazy it is. That's what we do and have been doing.

More broadly, a hate crimes bill pending in the Senate would make it easier to charge people with that federal crime

Michael Lieberman, director of the ADL's Civil Rights Policy Planning Center, said his group and others have been trying to get the legislation passed for a decade, but President George W. Bush promised to veto such a bill while President Obama supports it.

We now have the best chance of getting it passed ever, said Mr. Lieberman, though he added that the ADL does not favor criminalizing Holocaust denial or other abridgements of free speech.

But some people who have been exposed to hate literature are calling for it to be made criminal. Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of the Israel Project, thinks she's seen Mr. von Brunn's hatred before.

In 2005, she and other Annapolis residents had 22 pages of anti-Semitic and racist material from the white supremacist group National Alliance dumped on their lawns. …

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