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Muslims’ right to not be offended trumps free speech in Austria, says European Court of Human Rights

James Risdon James Risdon

STRASBOURG, France, October 26, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Islam's founder, Mohammad, married a six-year-old girl who moved into his home three years later, according to a hadith, an authoritative teaching of that religion outside of the Koran, but a European human rights court says he can't be called a pedophile.

A woman who did just that nine years ago was found guilty of disparaging religious doctrines, ordered to pay a fine of €480, and the cost of the proceedings against her.

At a seminar called Basic Information On Islam in 2009, she stated that Muhammad "liked to do it with children" and later added, "A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?"

That was enough for the Vienna Regional Criminal Court to find in mid-February 2011 that she had implied Muhammad had pedophilic tendencies and she was convicted. Appellate courts failed to overturn that decision.

The woman, who is only identified as E.S. in court documents, then took her case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). There, she argued her statements were based on facts, were made in the context of an objective and lively discussion that contributed to public discourse, and were not intended to defame the founder of the Islamic faith. She also argued religious groups have to tolerate even severe criticism.

It wasn't enough to sway the court.

"The (ECHR) found in particular that the domestic courts comprehensively assessed the wider context of the applicant’s statements and carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected, and served the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria," a statement by the ECHR noted.

"It held that by considering the impugned statements as going beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate, and by classifying them as an abusive attack on the prophet of Islam that could stir up prejudice and threaten religious peace, the domestic courts put forward relevant and sufficient reasons," said the court.

In agreeing with the Austrian courts, the ECHR put the right of Muslims to not be offended above freedom of speech, says John Carpay of Canada’s Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

"You cannot have both freedom of expression and the right not to be offended," he said. "If you have freedom of speech, people will be offended from time to time … Freedom of speech is about pursuing truth through debate and it's entirely subjective as to what is hateful."

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