We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here). The roots of these laws can be traced in part to the post-World War German law banning symbols and terms from Nazi Germany. None of the criminalization has stopped the rise of neo-Nazi groups of course. However, it does put the German government in the position of constantly prosecuting ridiculous cases. The latest is a pub owner who displayed four bottles with the picture of Hitler and one showing a Nazi salute.
While I am certainly sympathetic to the Germans in seeking to end the scourge of fascism, I have long been a critic of the German laws prohibiting certain symbols and phrases, I view it as not just a violation of free speech but a futile effort to stamp out 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. Such doubts also can be raised over private efforts to ban the number “88” from detergent boxes.
We have previously discussed the Führer Wine. In this case, the four bottles were spotted in Augsburger Allgemeine and a full police investigation and premises search was conducted as they looked for violations of Strafgesetzbuch section 86a, prohibiting the use of symbols of the Nazi party or words like “Heil Hitler.” The law includes the prohibition that “Whoever domestically disseminates or produces, stocks, imports or exports … means of propaganda … of a party which has been declared to be unconstitutional by the Federal Constitutional Court … shall be punished with imprisonment for not more than three years or a fine.”
The wine actually comes from Italy and the pub owner thought it was funny. He is now facing sentencing.