There is another bizarre free speech case out of Europe. This case involves a 28-year-old man in Coatbridge Scotland who taught his pug to give a Nazi salute to a screen showing Adolph Hitler. He was arrested after posting a video for hate speech.
Markus Meechan is shown encouraging his pug, Buddha, with repeated calls to “gas the Jews.” The dog is then seen lifting its paw to the television. The video of the dog, a pug named Buddah, shows it responding the words “Sieg Heil.” Meehan is heard saying “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute her dog is so I thought I would turn her into the least cute thing you could think of which is a Nazi.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said:
“A 28-year-old man was arrested on Thursday 28 April in relation to the alleged publication of offensive material online (improper use of electronic communications under the Communications Act 2003). . . . Posting offensive material online or in any other capacity will not be tolerated and police will act swiftly to tackle hate crimes that are motivated by malice or ill-will because of faith, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
This clip has been shared and viewed online, which ultimately has caused offence and hurt to many people in our community. There is no place for hate crime in Scotland and police take all reports of incidents seriously.”
As grotesque as this video tape is, many civil libertarians fear the rapid erosion of free speech protections under standards that criminalize speech that reflects such nebulous standards as “ill-will” or deemed offensive to any group.
I have long been a critic of the criminalization of symbols and gestures, even deeply offensive symbols like Nazi gestures. Europe has plunged into speech regulation and criminalization – showing that such laws create a slippery slope for the criminalization of unpopular speech. This course inevitably leads to increasing — and increasingly absurd — speech crimes. For example, 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.
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.
The statement would suggest that this might have been a joke and not intended as support for the Nazis or the holocaust. Yet, under the standard, the motivation of the words is not determinative if it is offensive (despite the police reference to malice). Of course, I do not know if this man is a serious Nazi or just trying to torment his girlfriend, but it should not matter. Even if he was some sick Scot with a desire for a Nazi pug, it remains free speech in my view.
What do you think?