May 30, 2021

Star of David Shirts on Amazon: Where does Freedom of Speech End?


Freedom of speech is important, but it can go terribly wrong.

Recently, someone told me to keep my thoughts to myself because I am German. The person claimed that I was living in a country that doesn’t have freedom of speech.

I was surprised and asked why this angry commenter thinks that we do not have the right to express our opinions in Germany.

His answer shocked me. He told me, “Try denying the holocaust and you will find out that there is no freedom of speech in Germany.”

I didn’t even know what to say and decided not to answer this particular comment. But it got me thinking. Yes, it is true, in Germany it is a crime to deny the holocaust—and I think that this is a good thing.

You are not even allowed to display swastikas in public in Germany—but why would anyone see that as a limitation of freedom of speech?

Freedom is defined in two directions. Philosopher Isaiah Berlin defines freedom as “freedom to” and “freedom of,” which points out the relationship between our freedom to do whatever we want and our freedom to live a life free of certain behaviors.

This concept gets tested when folks are trying to compare things like a mask mandate to the holocaust. Marjorie Taylor Greene did this recently, and the Republican party wasn’t willing to expel her for crossing this red line.

Probably inspired by Greene’s comparison, someone thought it was a good idea to offer shirts for anti-vaxxers with a Star of David on them. It was available on Amazon for hours until a Twitter-sh*tstorm made them take down this disgusting product.

Again, I am a supporter of freedom of speech, but there are limitations.

We can criticize lockdowns or mask mandates and agree to disagree, but there needs to be a red line. You can even speak up against the policies of Israel, you can express fear of too much government control in our daily lives, and it is probably okay to be concerned about the power of Wallstreet—but, and here comes the but, this should never ever be an excuse for any form of antisemitism.

Antisemitism is another form of racism. Racism is not an opinion. Racism is not something that should be protected by freedom of speech.

We can agree to disagree, but I am sorry to tell you: when it comes to racism, there are no two sides to the story. It is a crime, and it should be treated that way.

At least, that is my German perspective on this.

What do you think?


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