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The Holocaust History Project.
The Holocaust History Project.

Free Speech


my name is ***, I am presently working on a contract in ***.

I have a question for you, hope you will help me. More and more frequently I encounter people questioning the cases of hate speech prosecution. Someone has claimed that in Germany alone there are 8,000 people serving jail terms for for hate speech denying the Holocaust.

I am aware of such laws in Israel, in Canada and in the countries of the EEC. It is, however, becoming more and more difficult to defend them, especially given that in the US that kind of hate speech is protected. Some respectable people insist that asking questions and conducting research cannot be a reason for criminal prosecution. Others, unfortunately, see in such prosecution the proof of so-called "Jewish conspiracy" ruling over the free world.

Please let me know how to respond to these allegations and accusations.

Gordon McFee answers:

Mr ***, I am one of the volunteers who answers these questions. Some of my colleagues may contribute as well, as the issue you raise, while not the focus of out website, is nonetheless a complex and controversial one.

There is no simple answer to your request, since any answer very much depends on the personal views of the person providing it. It is not one of those black and white issues.

Insofar as Canada is concerned (I live there), the laws prohibit speech that would incite hatred against groups protected under the "Charter of Rights and Freedoms". Section 15 of the Charter prohibits discrimination against persons on account of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and other analogous grounds.

Other countries have similar laws as you have noted. The United States has its constitutional protection of free speech, and many Americans see this protection as paramount.

I guess it is a matter of opinion.

Richard J. Green answers:


I am one of the people who answers such questions for THHP. Some of my colleagues may answer as well. No doubt some of them disagree with me. There is a diversity of opinion on this issue.

Personally, I am opposed to hate speech laws.

I am a US citizen and firmly believe in the principles of the 1st amendment. I realize that other countries have different laws, but in my opinion in such cases where they do not protect free speech, they are inferior laws.

The way to counter the lies of Holocaust deniers is with more speech. They are all liars, and most of them are antisemites. It is possible to expose them as such.

By the way, there is an implicit factual error in your question. Holocaust deniers do no just ask questions and conduct research. They know what answer they seek before they ask the question and before they conduct the "research." They publish intentionally misleading propaganda. They are liars. The way to counter lies is by proclaiming the truth.

There are some types of speech such as inciting riots, making explicit and credible threats, and making illegal verbal contracts that are clearly not protected speech. Most Holocaust deniers do not cross that threshold in my opinion. Some of them do. Some of my friends have been explicitly threatened. When they cross that line, in my opinion, they ought to be prosecuted with the full force of the law. It rarely happens, however.

Richard J. Green comments:

My answer above might seem to read that it rarely happens that deniers cross the line. This may, in fact, be the case, but some of them do indeed cross the line. What I meant to say is that those who do so are rarely prosecuted with the full force of the law, at least in the US.

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Last modified: February 4, 2002
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