Last week the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against an Austrian woman, known to us only as “Mrs. S,” who, while teaching a seminar on Islam, suggested that the Quran’s account of Mohammad’s marriage at the age of fifty-six to a six-year-old describes pedophilia. Mrs. S. had appealed to the ECHR, claiming that the Austrian courts that fined her for this statement had violated her freedom of speech. Sohrab Ahmari explains:
[In 2011, an Austrian] regional court found that her “statements implied that Mohammad had pedophilic tendencies, and convicted Mrs. S. for disparaging religious doctrines,” per an ECHR news release. “She was ordered to pay a fine of 480 euros and the costs of the proceedings.” Mrs. S. appealed, but the higher courts in Austria upheld the lower court decision.
The ECHR’s final ruling was an exercise in bending the law to reach a politically favored outcome. The court began from the . . . questionable premise that states can legitimately restrict free expression when “religious intolerance” was at stake. It went on to divine that this was indeed such a case. Mrs. S.’s statements about Mohammad, though accurate, implicated especially sensitive subject matter, per the ECHR, and they didn’t contribute to a “debate of public interest,” such as one on the issue of child marriage. . . .
The conclusion: “In the instant case the domestic courts carefully balanced the applicant’s right to freedom of expression with the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected, and to have religious peace preserved in Austrian society.”
But notice the unstated premise here: the ECHR is suggesting that discussing the history of Islam and the psychology its founder for their own sake is not in the “public interest.” The court is arrogating to itself and the individual European states the power to decide which topics Europeans are permitted to debate and on what terms. This will not end well for European liberal elites, who imagine they can use coercive judicial power to shut down debates about immigration and assimilation and Islam’s place in Europe.