Eternal Vigilance in the Defense of Free Speech:
An Interview with Lars Hedegaard – by Ann Snyder
March 6, 2011 . In January Lars Hedegaard, president and founder of the Danish and International Free Press Societies, was acquitted of charges brought under Article 266(b) of the Danish penal code, a “hate speech” provision.
Just this past December, Danish MP, Jesper Langballe, rather than endure a circus of a trial “confessed,” pleading guilty to violating Article 266(b) for remarks he made in support of Hedegaard. In the days leading up to his prosecution, the Legal Project had an opportunity to catch up with Mr. Hedegaard. The conversation covered a wide array of topics from free speech in Denmark, to “no-go” zones, to the use of words like “Islamophobia,” to what we must do to protect free speech. Highlights are presented below.
Denmark at the epicenter of the clash between Islamism and the West
From the never-ending Mohammed cartoon controversy to the recent trials of Langballe and Hedegaard, Denmark is one country that has been at that center of the clash between Islamism and the West with Danes at the vanguard in the defense of free speech. At least in part, according to Hedegaard, that has to do with “…a certain predilection among the Danes to defend freedom and not to kiss up to or trust authorities.”
A more worrisome reason, however, is that Denmark is vulnerable in ways the Danes had not imagined. Hedegaard explains: “I am often asked that question. Why is it taking place in Denmark? Our protection of free speech is very weak in the country as we can see now. The protection that we enjoy in our constitution is extremely weak. It only says that you don’t have to ask the permission of the authorities before you go out and print or say anything. However, you can be prosecuted afterward for what you say. That is becoming increasingly clear now.
I think we all thought that there was something akin to a First Amendment protection but that now turns out not to be the case.” He went on to say, “I think it has come as a shock to Danes that we really do not in fact have free speech. There is no prior restraint, but then they’ll get you afterwards.”
Hedegaard raised concerns about an additional threat to free speech in Denmark and other states in the European Union: the adoption of the so-called “framework” decision on “racism and xenophobia” in November 2008 that went into effect this past year. The decision requires member-states to adopt criminal “hate speech” laws including genocide denial and “trivialization” provisions. The intellectual cancer of “hate speech” laws is spreading.