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Chapter 3 - Free Speech Even If It Hurts

Defending Holocaust Denier David Irving

from Part I - The Advocatus Diaboli: Reflections on Free Thought and Free Speech

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2020

Michael Shermer
Affiliation:
Chapman University, California
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Summary

This essay was originally published as an Opinion Editorial in the <italic>Los Angeles Times</italic> as “Free Speech, Even if it Hurts” on February 22, 2006. It was in response to the news that Holocaust denier David Irving, whom I wrote about in my co-authored 2000 book (with Alex Grobman) <italic>Denying History</italic> (2nd edition 2009), had been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in Austria for violating one of their “hate crime” laws, a misguided, impractical and, in my opinion, immoral attempt to combat hate speech with censorship (and punishment) rather than with free speech. Unbidden and unbeknownst to him, before Irving’s sentencing, I wrote a letter to the judge along the lines of what I argue here, asking not just for leniency in his sentencing but for Irving’s freedom. I have no idea if the judge ever read my letter, and unfortunately I no longer seem to have a copy of it in my archives. That Irving was arrested at the airport in Austria well before he was scheduled to deliver his speech means that this was worse than an assault on free speech; it was an assault on free thought – literally a thought crime. How Orwellian.

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Giving the Devil his Due
Reflections of a Scientific Humanist
, pp. 38 - 43
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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