Query for Our Dutch and Dutch-Savvy Readers:

The Windsor Star reports:

The Dutch cabinet gave the nod Friday to a bid to scrap a legal ban on blasphemy, opting to expand hate speech beyond religious boundaries to include all groups of people.

"The cabinet gives the prohibition of blasphemy a new form and place in the law," said a statement from the justice ministry.

"In future, it will be punishable to give serious offence to any group of people. There is no need any more for a separate provision for blasphemy."

The statement said there was no difference between insults aimed against people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation or handicap.

To this end, the cabinet decided to amend anti-discrimination provisions in the law, a move which must then be approved by parliament....

Surely "it will be punishable to give serious offence to any group of people" is something of an overstatement, but my quick search couldn't find any English-language details. Do any of you know more about this? At this point, I'm just looking for the facts, not a critique of a proposal the details of which are not yet certain (at least to me).

Henri Le Compte (mail):
My God, what madness. Pretty soon they're going to need to import lawyers to cover the caseloads.

I can't imagine why a country would invite this of a kind of administrative nightmare/tyranny upon itself.
11.2.2008 1:01am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
This article may be a little more informative.
11.2.2008 1:29am
The articles make it sound as if they don't really plan to enforce the law, or that the standard for violation is high. Even so...
11.2.2008 1:53am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Bill Poser: Sorry, I should have mentioned that I read that article, but didn't see that much helpful detail. It does say that "As an alternative the cabinet is now seeking to strengthen anti-discrimination laws against groups whatever their background, thus taking the religious component out of the equation," but I'm not sure what that means.
11.2.2008 1:07am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
What I took away from the Radio Netherlands article is that the government seems only to have a vague intention rather than a bill or other specific proposal.
11.2.2008 1:32am
Paul Milligan (mail):
Chalk up another win for our ( wanna be ) Islamic Masters.
11.2.2008 2:20am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
I can't find the right not to be offended in the Constitution, the Magna Carta, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, or even the Fundamental Declarations of the Martian Colonies.
11.2.2008 2:58am
gavinjdow (mail):
The First Amendment is truly a special thing.
11.2.2008 3:37am
Bruce_M (mail) (www):
This is very unlike the Dutch.

The First Amendment is a very special thing indeed, especially since a majority of Americans believe it "goes too far" and there's no way in hell it would be ratified today. It's special because it's a wonderful anacronism that has somehow managed to survive solely due to reverence (repealing the First Amendment sounds so damn unamerican that nobody would come out and actually propose it).
11.2.2008 5:06am
"In future, it will be punishable to give serious offence to any group of people."
Which brings to mind:

The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.

-- Ayn Rand

This new law effectively negates all individual rights.

Doubleplusungood, Nederlanders.
11.2.2008 5:30am
Vermando (mail) (www):
I disagree that it is very unlike the Dutch - they pass all kinds of laws that they have no intention of enforcing.

The reason you are having trouble finding factual information right now, Professor, is that the new law is not yet formulated. The only actual taken thus far is that they have repealed the old law against blasphemy (before we go off criticizing the new law, stop and consider that that one was on the books for so long).

They still want to have some law on speech, though, to encourage the "samenleving", i.e., the "together-living", the social unity of society, or whatever it is that generally keeps the Muslims there from acting like the Muslims in France and the Christians there from acting like the Christians in America (this is their opinion, not mine, just passing along my experience). So, they are proposing a new one, this one targeted, as they said, at words which target individual groups as groups.

In this way, many critics claims that this new law will simply be a "lazarus" for the old law, allowing the old blasphemy based restrictions to still exist since it will still be (officially and formally) forbidden to attack Muslims as Muslims, or Christians as Christians. Added, though, will be that it will include, likely quite literally, any other group qua group, so handicapped people qua handicapped people, homosexuals qua homosexuals, etc.

Not the kind of thing you'd approve of, I'd imagine, though in this regard, one really should keep in mind that they have a very different opinion of the role of the rule of law than we do - inconsistency in the law, or gaps between the law and reality drives us mad, while for them it is to be expected. Additionally, as was expressed above with 'this is very unlike the Dutch comment', civil society is much more tolerant there than here. I know it's not much respite to a law professor, whose life is spent studying the state's regulation of its people, but the practical effect is that there will not be a noticeable difference in the aggregate level of freedom between there and here...

...or at least that's what I'm telling myself...
11.2.2008 6:07am
James968 (mail):
Here's another story about it:
Blasphemy Law Ditched by the Dutch

One thing is they are talking about 'anti-discrimination' (against ANY group) for the new law, I would think that is more selective than simply blasphemy.
11.2.2008 7:52am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Presuming it is enacted as stated in the post, the enforcement will be interesting.
Theo van Gogh would have been in jail, so he might not have been murdered. Depending on the security situation in jail. I gather some jail security is so good that one Dutch politician resides there for his own protection.
Ya, I can see love and little ponies coming from this, you bet.
11.2.2008 8:02am
Dan M.:
So would "any group" include gender-based attacks? Or attacks on political parties? Or against foreigners?
11.2.2008 8:08am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
(face pressed against glass, voice muffled):

Help me! I'm stuck in the non-existent Saturday!!

11.2.2008 8:22am
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
sneaking in a critique- - -

Theo van Gogh would have been in jail, so he might not have been murdered.

Not knowing what's best for himself and the common good, it's his proper place.

"In future, it will be punishable to give serious offence to any group of people. There is no need any more for a separate provision for blasphemy."

So sayeth their masters.

Europeans absolutely refuses to view their own recent (150 yrs) history- how does an entire continent of people block out millions of deaths with the accompanying utter destruction and despair, and just keep heading down another engineered "road to utopia" guaranteed, however it will, to produce the same results...
11.2.2008 8:44am
davod (mail):
The problem with this is the possibility that prosecutions will be politically motivated. Powerline's Belgium Shrugged discusses "the harrowing case of Bart Debie, who has just begun serving a one-year prison sentence for "racism,"

"Debie then committed his real "offense." He decided to decided to run for a seat on the Antwerp city council as a member of the Vlaams Belang party. To make matters, he was elected.

Vlaams Belang seeks Flemish independence from Belgium through the political process, and it opposes the Islamization of European culture. Consequently, it is hated by Belgium's left-wing establishment which, as Diana observes, encourages such Islamization "in part to help increase their own constituencies."

After Debie became a political force, the prosecution appealed his case. This time it secured a "racism" conviction for remarks Debie didn't make during an incident at which he was not present. In addition to a stiff fine and a prison sentence of one year, the government of Belgium has stripped him of his political and civil rights for 12 years locally and five years nationally. Debie is not even certain if he can proceed with his marriage plans."
11.2.2008 10:01am
Allan (mail):
From the article, it appears that the Dutch anti-blasphemy law is being eliminated. That would be an expansion of freedom of expression, wouldn't it? The rest seems to be spin.
11.2.2008 10:51am
Norman Bates (mail):
Based on the content of Bill Poser's article, it sounds like the majority of Dutch legislators are planning to repeal a blasphemy law that Islamist radicals were using in attempts to stifle criticism of Islam. Unfortunately, some number of Dutch legislators may at the same time be thinking about strengthening other laws that can be used for the same purpose. Until further details are forthcoming it may be wise to rejoice in what is definitely about to happen and suspend judgment on what may or may not become law.
11.2.2008 11:05am
Allan wrote at 11.2.2008 10:51am:
The rest seems to be spin.
That's what I got from both articles. The specifics, and likelihood of passage of any proposed law are murky at best, but both articles are clear that the blasphemy law is gone.
11.2.2008 11:06am
Fedya (www):
In future, it will be punishable to give serious offence to any group of people.

I can't wait for the defenses from those who say they were only giving frivolous offense to people.
11.2.2008 11:14am
Bruce_M (mail) (www):
Yeah, it seems from the article that the dutch are NOT passing a comprehensive anti-offending law. That's good, especially in this day and age where defending freedom and democracy necessarily means blaspheming Islam (and to a much lesser extent, Christianity).
11.2.2008 11:20am
Blasphemy is considered a felony in the Netherlands punishable with a sentece up to three months in jail. I cannot remember anyone being prosecuted for blasphemy since the 70's. A famous dutch writer then wrote about God being a donkey he would have sex with. A scandal ensued, but if I remember correctly he was cleared on appeal (after being convicted in the first instance).

Insult can be a crime as well. Article 261 and 262 of our Penal Code ("wetboek van Strafrecht") prohibit libel. Article 263 prohibits (my translation): "each intentional insult not being libel, albeit in public in speech, writing, drawing, albeit when someone is present in speech or by actions, albeit it in written when sent or offered to a person".

The Dutch constitution does not have a right to the freedom of speech as such. It does have a right to a free press, although some argue that the freedom as speech has to be read in to the article ensuring the free press. However the freedom of the press can be limited by statute.

In as far as this article (or a new one) will be in conflict with article 10 of the ECHR (freedom of speech), it cannot be enforced.
11.2.2008 11:25am
PeterWimsey (mail):
Although you won't read about it in right-wing blogs, Bart Debie wasn't convicted of racism. Bart Debie was convicted of police brutality for, among other things, beating Turkish arrestees when he was police commissioner.
11.2.2008 11:36am
davod (mail):
Your Lordship:

"Bart Debie was convicted of police brutality for, among other things, beating Turkish arrestees when he was police commissioner."

The article says he wasn't at the location where the incident took place.
11.2.2008 11:56am
Nathan_M (mail):

The article says he wasn't at the location where the incident took place.

The Dutch Wikipedia entry on Debie doesn't have much detail, but it does list charges such as forgery and embezzlement that the PowerLine article did not see fit to mention. The PowerLine article implies the charges against Debie were based on the single incident they recount, but according to Wikipedia they were based on events over the course of over three years. I am shocked, shocked!, that an article on PowerLine might be misleading.
11.2.2008 12:14pm
Oh well, one of the article referred to above already cited the Gerard Reve case (in which he had sex with god/donkey)...
11.2.2008 12:24pm
davod (mail):

The prosecution had to appeal to get their verdict. So the first trial might not have gone to well for them.
11.2.2008 12:29pm
Nathan_M (mail):
Davod - actually, according to Wikipedia Debie was convicted at trial, although the appeal court increased his sentence from three years to four years, and added convictions for other offences. It seems Debie was acquitted of "incitement to racism" at trial, and then convicted by the appeal court, but it seems wrong to imply he got off after the trial.

If it is correct that the trial court sentenced him to three years while acquitting him of "racism" it seems especially misleading to suggest all he was convicted for was "racism". (Aside from the "true offence" of "run for a seat on the Antwerp city council", of course, a characterization which conveniently forgets whatever crimes landed him the initial three year sentence.)

I'm not pretending to have much understanding of what happened, but when all I know is that PowerLine says substantially which is substantial inconsistent with Wikipedia I am inclined not to believe the PowerLine account.
11.2.2008 12:53pm
...when all I know is that PowerLine says substantially which is substantial inconsistent with Wikipedia I am inclined not to believe the PowerLine account.
At least you said 'believe' instead of "think." I'll give you that.
11.2.2008 1:55pm
Vermando (mail) (www):
Just to clear things up above, bill 137c, the broader anti-discrimination provision, is still going to come. As has been noted, the only thing done so far has been the repeal of the blasphemy law - an expansion of freedom of speech opposed by the Christian Unity party, amongst others - but the other law is still coming.
11.2.2008 4:46pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Vermando: Thanks very much for the feedback -- do you have a copy of the likely text (or a credible summary) of bill 137c?
11.2.2008 5:05pm
Whoops, in my post I forgot that we allready have article 137c Dutch penal code, which further to the prohibitions I mentioned above states:

"A person who publicly, either orally or in writing or by image, intentionally makes a defamatory statement about a group of persons on the grounds of their race, religion or personal beliefs, or their hetero- or homosexual orientation, is liable to a term of imprisonment of not more than one year or a fine of the third category."

There is not yet a specific proposal for the new article, but the Ministry of Justice has declared in a letter to parliament that the prohibition will remain as is but after the word intentionally the words "directly or indirectly" will be added. According to the Minister this will clarify that not only intentionally insulting a group on the aforementioned grounds will be prohibited, but defaming someone because he is part of a religious group will be as well.

By the way, article 137c of the Dutch penal code seems to be the implementation of a human rights treaty aiming to outlaw racial discrimination.
11.2.2008 6:03pm
Thanks to the pointer Vermando.
11.2.2008 6:22pm
And finally, a properly sourced translation of article 137c: link
11.2.2008 6:31pm
In response to this story, here is a note forwarded to me from Flemming Rose — the editor of the Danish newspaper that published the Muhammad cartoons.

"Yes, I have heard about the repeal of the blasphemy law in Holland, here is a wire item on the news from Holland. I am eager to find out if the repeal will be "compensated" by the passing of a law against incitement to religious hatred as they did in the UK."

all the best,


Blasphemy law to be repealed


Justice minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin (Christian Democrats) has finally given into pressure and is to recommend that blasphemy - insulting religions or their practitioners - is no longer a criminal offence.

Although the law, which was brought in to protect Christians from being insulted is almost defunct, in the past the minister has believed it to be useful to protect Muslims from Islam-bashing, says Friday's Volkskrant.

The law was last used in 1968 against the writer Gerard Reve. He was found not guilty.

Hirsch Ballin had suggested expanding the current legislation to cover all religions but MPs were against the move, arguing it would conflict with freedom of speech, the Volkskrant says.

11.2.2008 7:23pm
JFred (mail):
So for a while the Dutch can dis each others religion. Way cool, I guess.

After that, lets say you have some crazy idol-worshiper who worships his own butt-hole. So if somebody says "The butt-hole worshipers are butt-holes", they can go to jail? And it was this way last year as well?

How about if somebody says "The retarded are stupid!". Hard time?

I do like the idea of Holland importing lawyers, though. There are too many in the States. We can ship over all the lawyers and then bomb the dikes...
11.3.2008 5:25pm