Freedom Of Speech Means Freedom To Offend

Writing in today’s Washington Post, George Will uses the example of the recent prosecution of historian David Irving for the crime of denying the truth of the Holocaust to make the point that freedom of speech sometimes means letting some truly offensive people speak their minds.

In 1989, in two speeches in Austria, Irving said, among much else, that only 74,000 Jews died of natural causes in work camps and millions were spirited to Palestine after the war. An arrest warrant was issued. Last November Irving was arrested when he came to Austria to address some right-wing students. Last week, while Europe was lecturing Muslims about the virtue of tolerating free expression by Danish cartoonists, Irving was sentenced to three years in prison.

Is David Irving wrong ? We know without a doubt he is. Is he offensive ? To those whose family members died in Hitler’s gas chambers or died on the beaches of Normandy to free Europe from Nazi tyranny ? Absolutely. Should he have the right to say what he says ? Without question, yes.

What dangers do the likes of Irving pose? Holocaust denial is the occupation of cynics and lunatics who are always with us but are no reason for getting governments into the dangerous business of outlawing certain arguments. Laws criminalizing Holocaust denial open a moral pork barrel for politicians: Many groups can be pandered to with speech restrictions. Why not a law regulating speech about slavery? Or Stalin’s crimes?

Exactly. And what about the hypocrisy that Europe displays ? What right do they have to complain about the Muslim reaction to the Mohammed cartoons when they are putting a man in jail because he dares to right a history book that makes conclusions they don’t like ?

I am not a supporter of David Irving, but he has as much right to say what he says as Danish and French newspapers have to publish cartoons making fun of extremist Muslims.

Things are much better here in the United States right ? After all, we’ve got a First Amendment and no law against denying the truth of the Holocaust ? Don’t be so sure about it.

Just consider these examples:

For several decades in America, the aim of much of the jurisprudential thought about the First Amendment’s free-speech provision has been to justify contracting its protections. Freedom of speech is increasingly “balanced” against “competing values.”


On campuses, speech codes have abridged the right of free expression to protect the right — for such it has become — of certain preferred groups to not be offended. The NCAA is truncating the right of some schools to express their identity using mascots deemed “insensitive” to the feelings of this or that grievance group. Campaign finance laws ration the amount and control the timing and content of political speech.


To protect the fragile flower of womanhood, a judge has ruled that use of gender-based terms such as “foreman” or “draftsman” could create a “hostile environment” and hence constitute sexual harassment.

And then there’s an example that’s been in the news lately that Will does not cite. Over the past several weeks, several states have taken steps to prevent protesters from picketing at funerals, a move propelled by the fact that an objectively offensive group of extreme Christians have been staging protests at the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq claiming that the deaths America is experiencing in Iraq are God’s punishment for tolerating homosexuality. Offensive ? Absolutely ? Should they have the right to be offensive ? I can’t see any reason why not.

Freedom of speech means that, sometimes, we will hear some truly offensive things. When government starts regulating speech based on the fact that it may offend, though, it diminishes freedom for everyone.

  • Jill Henry

    In my own research on the Holocaust, I’ve come across two things that are problematical. Why have revisionist historians, scientists and publishers been murdered, assaulted, had acid thrown in their face, and been imprisoned?

    Here is a site that gives a partial list of these victims:

    And why was it necessary to torture confessions from Nazis during the Nuremberg trials?

    Here is an article that details the extensive use of torture by the Allies against Nazi defendants:

  • Ryan

    As far as the NCAA goes, I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) they are a priavate organizationcorrect? So they have the right to do what they are doing (I certainly don’t agree with it, but they have that right), but yea, it makes me mad when people tell flat out lies (such as denying the holocaust), though when you put it this way I guess there isn’t much I can do to stop them… interesting post.

  • Doug

    The NCAA is an interesting hybrid. Yes, its a private organization, but most of its member-colleges are public institutions.

  • Eric

    Although I very seriously disagree with the thoughts posted by Jill Henry in the first comment on this thread, when I found it waiting to be moderated, I marked it for approval.

  • Doug


    I would’ve let the comment through myself.

    At the same time, though, to any other Jill Henry’s out there who might be reading this let me make this perfectly clear — the Holocaust happened, six million Jews, and countless millions of others, were sent to their death by one of most evil regimes ever to hold power in human history. That is the truth. David Irving is wrong. He does, however, have the right to be wrong.

  • Eric

    Now, as to the specific questions Jill brings up. First, they have been debunked by all serious scholars of WWII. But, to answer them myself.

    1. If you were Jewish, Slavic, a Gypsy, or one of the many other groups that were tortured, enslaved and taken to the camps, how might you react to the neo-nazi’s, and other apologists, who try to say the Holocaust didn’t happen? That doesn’t excuse the actions taken by such people, but it certainly goes a long way toward understanding why.

    2. This question is plain silly. I’ve read first hand accounts by former members of the Waffen-SS that totally contradict this propaganda (Black Edelweiss, for example). Further, multiple accounts by people involved in the questioning and trials all agree that most of the surviving Nazi leadership were very forthcoming about the “Final Solution”. That being the case, someone’s lying. I would suggest that a conspiracy to hide such things on that scale could not be kept hidden for 6 decades. In other words, the stories of torture and abuse are false.

  • Jill Henry

    “Now, as to the specific questions Jill brings up. First, they have been debunked by all serious scholars of WWII. But, to answer them myself.” — Eric

    Was Galilio debunked as well?

    Please go to these links:
    Victims of the holocaust industry:

    Article that details the use of torture and threats of death against Nuremberg defendents:

    The Nuremberg Trials extensively used torture and threats of death against German defendents. Since these trials, numerous revisionists have been murdered, had acid thrown in their face and been imprisoned.

    Do “serious scholars” give credence to these kinds of tactics? No, only thugs or the naeve.