Germany has tossed a Holocaust denier into prison, and the American Christianist right is all outraged about it. Or so PZ Myers tells me; it’s telling that I had to learn about this from him, as this hasn’t been a big story here at all.
As you probably know, it is illegal in Germany to deny the Holocaust. Lutheran pastor Johannes Lerle denied it publicly; he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to a year behind bars. So far, so yawn. Germany has its share of reactionaries, but any of them stupid enough to deny the Holocaust publicly are punished; end of story as far as the Germans are concerned.
Not in the USA, though. For some on that side of the Atlantic, Pastor Lerle is a Christian martyr.
Lerle is no stranger to the lash of the law. He is an anti-choice extremist; though, as he has not SFAIK killed anybody, not as extreme as his American counterparts. One thing he likes to do is post to the internet the names of women who have had abortions and the doctors who provided them. (You stay classy, Pastor Lerle!) At the time of his sentencing, he had six prior convictions, including two short jail terms.
Perhaps it is because Lerle is so extraordinarily offensive that he has earned the sympathy of the American right; like closes rank with like. The gibbering maniacs of the ‘Free Republic’ website (they’ll get no link from me) accuse the German state of persecuting Lerle for preaching the Christian religion. (In an extraordinary example of pot/kettle projection, the freepers also paint the German people as ‘scum’ and ‘fascist thugs’.) And, as PZ tells us, William Dembski direly predicts that, since Germany persecutes Christians and all, they’ll soon be jailing people who preach ‘intelligent design’ creationism.
Untwist those knickers, my American wingnut friends! Lerle is a ghastly man with ghastly beliefs, but he is perfectly free to hold and disseminate his anti-choice views and, if so inclined, ID creationism as well. He’s not in pokey for any of that; he’s in for publishing neonazi propaganda.
This is not the first weird American obsession with the travails of the German lunatic fringe. It never made the headlines here, but apparently the US Christianist right was all afroth over a girl taken from her parents because they insisted on home-schooling her. (A court later returned the girl, but underscored that home-schooling is illegal.) Yet another example, it would seem, of the Secular Humanist Liberal One-World Black Helicopter Antichrist Government oppressing the People of the Lord. It’s hard to know the exact facts of the case, as I can’t find any articles about it except in the American wingnut media. (It’s not even clear that religious fundamentalism was the parents’ motive, as it so often is America.) But, for anybody who knows anything about Germany, the notion that this was an act of the antireligious left is ludicrous — the state concerned was Bavaria, after all. (If you don’t know Germany, Bavaria has been ruled for decades by a populist religious-right government — just the sort of government the freepers and creationists would like to see in place in America.) Now, you can argue that the German states ought to permit home-schooling. (As long as parents teach to the set curriculum and the kids can pass the same tests taken by those in state schools, I’d be inclined to permit it myself.) But the fact remains that, right now, Germany doesn’t permit home-schooling. If you don’t send your kids to school, the school authorities will follow up. And, if you are recalcitrant and continue to keep your kids out of school, at some point the state will force you to send them, placing the kids with foster parents if necessary. There is nothing Black Helicopter about it.
Similarly, one can easily find the German laws prohibiting Holocaust denial disturbing. (Certainly PZ does, and nobody can accuse him of right-wing sympathies.) Holocaust deniers are loathesome toads to be sure. But freedom of speech is a very high value, and anyway, sunshine is the best disinfectant and all that. In principle, I think the German law should change. In practice, I fully understand why Germans, of all people, would want to err on the side of caution, especially when there are still victims — and perpetrators — alive. (I’d have a lot less tolerance for the German restrictions if they are still on the books in 100 years.) However that may be, right now German law makes Holocaust denial a criminal offence. Johannes Lerle was found guilty of committing that offence; he is a criminal and is being punished as one. That he is for many other reasons a disgusting human being is, pace the American right wing, irrelevant. There is no law in Germany that prohibits human beings from being disgusting.