Anti-Semitism on Trial
When Brazil's Supreme Court ruled in the case of Sigfried Ellwanger - an editor, author, and notorious Nazi sympathizer - it entered the perilous field where free speech and efforts to contain racism meet. For years, Ellwanger published anti-Semitic books, such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, as well as books of Holocaust denial, such as his own Jewish or German Holocaust: Behind the Lie of the Century. By a vote of eight to three, the Court upheld his conviction on charges of racism.
Of course, the enormity of the Holocaust ought to have eradicated anti-Semitism for all time. Shamefully, it did not. In many places, hatred of Jews thrives. Elsewhere - including Europe and the United States - anti-Semitism survives among a fringe of neo-Nazis and renegades like Ellwanger, but also, more widely, in milder forms of prejudice.
But punishing someone criminally for being an anti-Semite and a racist propagandist raises troublesome issues that different countries approach in different ways. To be sure, every country places some limits on speech. As Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it in a 1919 US Supreme Court decision, "Even the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater and causing a panic."