Swiss Court Rules Nazi Salute Is Not Criminal If Uses Solely To Express Personal Beliefs

220px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_147-0510,_Berlin,_Lustgarten,_Kundgebung_der_HJ360px-Bundesgericht-VDThere is an interesting decision out of Geneva where Switzerland’s Federal Tribunal, their top court, ruled that a Nazi salute is not a criminal gesture if it meant as a personal statement. For Americans, it is a decision that may seem oddly framed since we treat such gestures as clearly protected. However, given the criminalization of Nazi symbols in Germany and France, the ruling is viewed as a more liberal approach to free speech. Even jokes have been criminalizes in England and France.

I have long been a critic of the criminalization of symbols and gestures while I understand the deep injury in these countries ravaged by the Nazi regime. I view it as not just a violation of free speech but a futile effort to stamp but extremism by barring certain symbols. Instead, extremists have rallied around an underground culture and embraced symbols that closely resemble those banned by the government. I fail to see how arresting a man for a Hitler ringtone is achieving a meaningful level of deterrence, even if you ignore the free speech implications.

This opinion captures the uncertain line drawn by courts in the area. Free speech demands bright lines to avoid chilling speech through uncertain rules and enforcement. The court overturned the conviction of a man who gave the salute in during a demonstration in August 2010. He was charged with racial discrimination. The man had substituted the Swiss oath with a 20-second Nazi salute. The Court ruled that he was expressing his personal beliefs and not using the salute to spread, advertise or propagate racist ideology with the intention of influencing others. While I appreciate the ruling in favor of free speech, I fail to see the distinction. Any salute is designing to public proclaim allegiance to an ideology or country. As such, it advertises an ideology and seeks association with those with similar views.

The problem is trying to draw such lines rather than embracing free speech as protecting not just popular but unpopular and even hateful speech. Once you start as a government to criminalize speech, you end up on a slippery slope of censorship. What constitutes hate speech remains a highly subjective matter and we have seen a steady expansion of prohibited terms and words and gestures. We have been following (here and here and and and here and and here and here) the worsening situation in England concerning free speech. As noted in a recent column, free speech appears to be dying in the West with the increasing criminalization of speech under discrimination, hate, and blasphemy laws.

Most of us find the Nazi salute to be deeply offensive. However, I would prefer to deal with such views in the open public forum rather than forcing such views underground and converting these extremists into self-described victims. Suppressing symbols of hate does little to deter hate. It gives these groups a rallying cause and simply results in mocking variations of symbols designed to evade government controls like the “quenelle.”

Source: US News

29 thoughts on “Swiss Court Rules Nazi Salute Is Not Criminal If Uses Solely To Express Personal Beliefs”

  1. C W Salt, Well!! The PC brown shirts are tracking you down and you will be enrolled in a “check your privilege” program. Pack your bags.

  2. Germany is certainly a place that needed curbs on free speech after WWII. The Nazi movement had to be suppressed. Swiss? Next door to Germany? Now?
    Many Americans today are not aware that we had the German American Bund. They marched around and barked and gave the salute. They went underground. Grand Old Gophers now.

  3. If one peruses pre-WWII photographs you’ll find this arm gesture was our repspectful salute to flag and country here in the U.S., as it had been used by societies since Greek and Roman times. I’ll never understand why symols which have once been used by an evil regime for a few years should be associated with horrors for eternity. Perhaps in the future, (probably not in my lifetime), things will change and this world of total PC-ness will abate, but I believe we’ve gone too far down the path already and we may be doomed, to some extent by wallowing in all this hypersensitivity. If pre-WWII history of Germany is closely examined you’ll see our society today is, sadly, very similar (and don’t you dare launch into an anti-Obama rant, he’s not the culprit). Over history, more atrocities and henious crimes have been commited against each other by people (mis)quoting a Bible verse or evoking the name of God than all other symbols combined… whilst the intended message is truly LOVE! So shall we cut-to-the chase with this PC world and ban the Bible and God???

  4. I continually will dissuade others from race/gender issues. They have overshadowed everything else for far too long. Grow up and deal with it. There are vulnerable people in American culture that still are getting no attention. It’s obviously a backwards mindset when so much emphasis is on race/gender. As for other countries–they don’t jail like we jail, so that is that.

  5. Dredd, once again we have had to delete a comment by you that was a personal attack on another poster in obvious violation of our civility rule.

  6. Flea speech for the dogs, right-wing speech for the hogs, salute speech for the turd-reich wing.

    (Natural And Zoo “Intelligence”)

  7. The PC people really don’t understand free speech. That’s why their movement needs to be crushed.

  8. I can’t wait for the reaction when some idiot Congressman to brings a guest to the SOTU address who stands up and gives the Nazi salute. It wouldn’t be all that different than when the idiot Rep. Steve Stockman brought the even bigger idiot Ted Nugent to the SOTU after he said President Obama was a “Sub human mongrel”, in the vernacular of white supremacist groups. Free speech comes with glitches I guess.

  9. “Most of us find the Nazi salute to be deeply offensive. However, I would prefer to deal with such views in the open public forum rather than forcing such views underground and converting these extremists into self-described victims.”

    I completely agree with you that suppressing offensive speech through government is only counterproductive in combating that ideology. But, to me, an even stronger reason for free speech is that I don’t trust the government to decide what is offensive and what is not.

    1. Dredd – according to your article, that should be an Obama Head Job, it has nothing to do with President Bush.

  10. Paul Schulte

    Having worked with both Crips and Bloods, the important thing is to not have both groups in the room at the same time.
    Or engage in presstitution in a buffalo herd.

    1. Dredd – what does presstitution have to do with buffalo herds and what do either have to do with the subject at hand?

  11. I like PC, especially the Pope Capitalism version which rocks.

    Some want racism to replace PC, then I won’t like PC then because it will suck Sheldon Silverspooner.

  12. I’d much rather know what I’m dealing with than not. Would you not want to know if you’re dealing with someone from the crips and bloods?

    1. Having worked with both Crips and Bloods, the important thing is to not have both groups in the room at the same time.

  13. Paul, We had a white privilege conference here in Madison a few months ago. I live in the PC capitol of the US.

  14. The PC culture here would LOVE to criminalize speech. That’s why PC must be fought until it is defeated.

  15. I am a big fan of yours but it appears the article was written very sloppily. There are many spelling and grammar errors in it!

  16. Is it true that the more individuals are allowed to deviate from a strict framework of right and wrong, the less likely the group is to stick together? Is there an inverse correlation between civil rights and peace? The US had a good thing going when what held it together WAS civil rights. Since civil rights have been reduced, anger and discontent seem to have increased.

  17. I saw this article yesterday and I do agree with their reasoning. PC has gone too far in too many countries. “Check your privilege” is the new racist attack on whites on college campuses. In fact, one campus is requiring its incoming freshman to take a seminar in ‘checking their privilege.’

    We all have had situations in dealing with some fascist authority figure that using the Nazi salute would be the perfect way to end the conversation.

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