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Europe’s Free Speech Problem: A Cautionary Tale


After it was accepted that criminalizing speech was a desirable way to produce better citizens, finding a stopping point has proven almost impossible. Although the US has the legal protections for freedom of speech that Europe lacks, a culture of censorship is emerging here as well.

Immediately following last year’s same-sex marriage ruling, Obergefell v. Hodges, Pennsylvania news site PennLive published an editorial explaining that “As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will no longer accept, nor will it print, op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.” Such opposition was equated with “homophobia,” which in turn was equated with racism. All of which made the decision “Pretty Simple.” After a burst of public outcry the paper revised its policy and stated that letters to the editor on the issue of same-sex marriage would be allowed “for a limited time.”

But imagine a world where censorship isn’t self-imposed, as in the case ofPennLive, but state-imposed under threat of criminal sanction—where opposition to the prevailing political and cultural orthodoxy doesn’t just mean an unprinted letter, it means police officers at the door. We might imagine this happening in faraway dictatorships. But in reality, such scenes are becoming increasingly common in Europe. Catholic bishops are the subjects of police investigation, cartoons can be criminal, and private debates have led to prosecutions.

Europe has a free speech problem. It should serve as a warning to the United States.

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