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Even Bigots Deserve Free Speech

George Will: Less Freedom, Less Speech. 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.

What folly. 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?

The political left has made a mistake by not standing up for the free-speech rights of even such disgusting people as Holocaust denier David Irving. We can’t have free speech only for the people we agree with, because then it’s not the genuine article.

It’s easy to protect innocuous talk. But the entire point of free speech is that you have to protect the rights of people whose utterings you despise.

Counter the rantings of people like Irving with better speech, not jail terms. His case works against everyone, not just him.

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