Switzerland must reject these new hate-speech laws

Criminalising homophobia will only make challenging homophobia more difficult.

Andrea Seaman


Switzerland will vote on 9 February in a national referendum on whether the law should be amended to include homosexuals and bisexuals in the category of groups protected from hate speech and discrimination. Religion and ethnic origin are already protected in this way.

In the official brochure, which was sent to all households before the referendum, our parliament and the federal council supported the amendment, arguing that discrimination in the form of hate speech ‘has no place in a free and tolerant society’. Opponents of this proposed law, who tend to be those on the right, rightly describe it as an attempt at censorship. The left-wingers who back this law change, meanwhile, describe it as an expression of tolerance towards gays and lesbians.

The sort of ‘hate speech’ that the law would prohibit is broadly defined: it could include any kind of explicit verbal denigration of sexual orientation that apparently constitutes an affront to the human dignity of a person. The main aim of the law is to ban discriminatory statements or ‘the systematic belittling and slandering of lesbians, gays and bisexuals’.

Instead of admitting that they want to restrict freedom of speech, the supporters of this law have invented a cunning sleight of hand. The German language does not only contain the concept of ‘Redefreiheit’ (free speech), but also ‘Meinungsfreiheit’, which means ‘freedom of opinion’. Fixating on the latter term and its reference to ‘opinion’, censorious campaigners have simply concluded that hate is ‘not an opinion’. Hence, in their view, banning expressions of hate does not constitute an infringement of the right to express opinions. But even if hate is not an opinion, it is an emotion – and giving the state the power to police emotions is not much better.

Proponents argue that the law is not just about speech, but that it will also protect against homophobic violence. The president of the Swiss Social Democratic Party (SP), Christian Levrat, says ‘it should not be allowed to publicly incite hatred and smear, because words are followed by deeds’. Levrat believes that the cause of hate crimes lies in hate speech. Consequently, he says we must ‘get to the root of the problem’ and prohibit all expressions of hatred towards gays. Sibylle Berg, a German-Swiss author who backs the law, says that ‘words precede deeds!’.

This is chilling. It is a form of what Philip K Dick’s ‘The Minority Report’ called ‘precime’ – in this case, ‘hate crimes’ that have not happened yet.

While proponents of this law often appeal to tolerance, its implementation would be an attack on true tolerance. Because tolerating an opinion or emotion often means disliking it but still allowing it to exist and be expressed. A fundamentalist Christian, for example, may take what the Bible says about homosexuals literally, and even hate homosexuals, but still tolerate them anyway.

In turn, those of us who loathe homophobia should tolerate those with homophobic views, so that we can challenge them in the open. The wonderful thing about tolerance is that it presumes that people have the capacity to change. Tolerance is not about being complacent about the existence of ugly views in society. It is our job to tolerate homophobes, to argue against them in order to convince them of our views. We should trust that truth will prevail.

What’s more, this proposed law would only make defeating homophobia more difficult. The censorship of hate speech puts a lid on passions and beliefs, bringing them to boiling point. It removes the restraining, calming, healthy influence of dialogue with fellow citizens.

As Jodie Ginsberg from Index on Censorship reminds us, anti-Semitic speech was criminalised in the Weimar Republic. Far from forcing the Nazis to rethink and to renounce their prejudices, these laws cemented their prejudices and gave them the mantle of martyrs. Ginsberg rightly rebukes ‘the narrative that suggests publicising the views of the far-right leads directly to much wider violence’.

There is nothing left-wing about censorship. By calling for censorship, the Swiss left has completely abandoned the traditional principles of left-wing politics and adopted ideas originally championed by the right. As Thomas Paine put it in Rights of Man, freedom is jeopardised when the state tries to impose ‘tolerance’ through official policy, law or decree. Enforced tolerance isn’t tolerance at all. A ‘tolerant’ state, Paine wrote, was akin to ‘the pope selling or granting indulgences’. What the state tolerates and grants, it can stifle and take away just as easily.

In total defiance of that original left-wing insight, the Swiss ‘left’ wants to enforce tolerance towards gays through law. But true freedom and tolerance can never be attained, given or guaranteed by the state. When the state offers you tolerance, it is always intolerance in disguise. We Swiss should reject this law, and abolish all the other hate-speech laws in Switzerland. This is the only way we can create a space for tolerance, debate and genuine democracy.

Andrea Seaman is a writer based in Switzerland.

Picture by: Getty.

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Alex Cameron

3rd February 2020 at 7:44 pm

Excellent piece, very well argued, passionate and independently-minded. More please!

Ven Oods

3rd February 2020 at 10:25 am

Well; I suppose if it’s a referendum and the majority of Swiss voters go for it, then it should become law. Isn’t that how these things work?


3rd February 2020 at 1:10 pm

Apparently it is. At least the Swiss have a functional democratic system, which is more than I can say for the UK. Maybe Prime Minister Cummings can send a fact-finding delegation to the Swiss Republic to see how representative democracy and devolved government work?

Jim Lawrie

3rd February 2020 at 10:13 am

The left everywhere cannot respond to conclusion based on the facts of Islamic belief and behaviour. Hatred of Islam and it adherents is not an opinion or an emotion, it is a rational response.


3rd February 2020 at 1:14 pm

I hate Islam and I am significantly more left than you. The problem is that you abandoned Christianity and are therefore powerless to defend your country. The right is just as cowardly as the left on this issue. The truth is that you are cowards and will not stand up to expel Islam from Europe. Don’t blame the EU for your personal weakness and cowardice. I doubt any of the blowhard rightist commentators on this forum have the necessary cojones and the willingness to face down physical violence.

Asif Qadir

3rd February 2020 at 4:24 pm

Try saying that to American conservatives that still have their guns.


3rd February 2020 at 6:52 pm

ASIF QADAR — I wasn’t referring to American conservatives who clearly do have cojones. I was referring to the English rightists who talk a big game but who would not be prepared to take all necessary action…

Asif Qadir

3rd February 2020 at 7:39 pm

I agree with you about your “Abandonment of Christianity” comment, but implicit in my response is the fact that there isn’t much that can be done about this by a dis-armed populace.

david rawson

3rd February 2020 at 9:55 am

I can’t believe the Swiss with agree to this crap.

Gerard Barry

3rd February 2020 at 10:48 am

I doubt that they’ll support it either. But at least they’re being given a choice in the matter. The Irish government has recently introduced “hate speech” laws without asking the general public, probably because they know they’d be told where to go. The ironic thing is, they abolished the blasphemy law a couple of years ago. Can’t help but wonder if that was another way of “sticking it” to the Catholic Church, the religion of the great majority of the people in Ireland, while the new hate speech laws are designed to protect sacred “minorities”.

Gerard Barry

3rd February 2020 at 9:09 am

“Instead of admitting that they want to restrict freedom of speech, the supporters of this law have invented a cunning sleight of hand. The German language does not only contain the concept of ‘Redefreiheit’ (free speech), but also ‘Meinungsfreiheit’, which means ‘freedom of opinion’. Fixating on the latter term and its reference to ‘opinion’, censorious campaigners have simply concluded that hate is ‘not an opinion’. Hence, in their view, banning expressions of hate does not constitute an infringement of the right to express opinions. But even if hate is not an opinion, it is an emotion – and giving the state the power to police emotions is not much better.”

Same here in Germany, where it is an offence to “insult” somebody. I recently fell foul of the law and am absolutely terrified. I can’t believe you can be prosecuted for something you say or write.

Gareth Hart

3rd February 2020 at 9:03 am

‘words precede deeds!’

Let’s follow that train of logic to its logical conclusion:

‘thoughts precede words!’

Sam Haine

3rd February 2020 at 8:51 am

Presumably, if the law passes, there will have to be a mass-pulping of existing copies of The Bible and The Qur’an? They will surely have to be reprinted with the homophobic passages removed?

Will possession of uncensored copies of such books become a criminal offence?

Jim Lawrie

3rd February 2020 at 10:25 am

Good point Sam. You highlight the double standard. Their beliefs are now protected from the laws that apply to the rest of us. We are no longer equal before the law, and that is a theme that we see more and more. The double standard is not just regarding what is said, but also who is saying it. Boris Johnson’s actions were lambasted in the Supreme Court in terms of his class and the school his parents sent him to. And that because he supported the “wrong” side.


3rd February 2020 at 7:02 pm

The Quran should be banned because it fundamentally contradicts the Bible, not because it contains passages inciting violence. The violent passages in the Old Testament must be read through the filter of the New Testament. Nowhere does Jesus advocate violence as a means of conversion or extending the Kingdom of God (Matt. 26:51-52, etc.). The Quran contains no such filter.

Asif Qadir

3rd February 2020 at 7:42 pm

Seeing that there isn’t actually any such thing as ‘homophobia’, then l doubt that would be necessary, Sam.

K Tojo

3rd February 2020 at 8:38 am

Where the great and the good of one Western nation goes others will soon follow. Will there be no one other than white heterosexual males that I can express a low opinion of without the risk of being criminalised?

Am I to be bullied into whole-hearted approval of that vast army of disgruntled victim groups who blame their every social problem on the (alleged) privilege enjoyed by white heterosexual men?

Mere “tolerance” will never be enough – too easy to dismiss as grudging acceptance. Ultimately, only celebration of diversity will do.

Dominic Straiton

3rd February 2020 at 8:32 am

“hate speech” and “human rights” both belong in the soviet union where they were born.

Rock Ape

3rd February 2020 at 8:13 am

(Orwellian) Hate speech laws ‘has no place in a free and tolerant society’

steve moxon

3rd February 2020 at 5:53 am

The notion of ‘hate crime’ pertaining to ‘identity politics’ ‘groups’ is completely undermined by all of the evidence; not least the ‘hate crime’ stats.
See the forthcomong paper: ‘The Falsity of Identity Politics: Negative Attitude is Towards Males who are Different, in Policing Sexual Access by Gate-Keeping Group Membership’. In the journal, New Male Studies, 8(2).
ABSTRACT: Identity politics (often dubbed political correctness: PC) victim categories (protected characteristics) are shown to be false. Negative attitude is specifically towards males, and evoked by any form of significant difference. Previous findings that misogyny has no scientific basis, with the evidence instead of philogyny and misandry, extend to apply across all victim categories, trumping race or sexual orientation. This is revealed in the predominance of males as hate crime victims, the harsher attitude towards apparently more masculine subsets of sexual minority and race, and experimentally. Supposed homophobia is revealed to be a far wider phenomenon, encompassing all victim categories, manifest culturally in male initiation and scientifically evidenced across fields. It functions to gate-keep male full admission to the group, serving to police male sexual access, maximising reproductive efficiency, not to deal with out-group threat, nor to oppress (least of all females). Identity politics is extreme misrepresentation of social and inter-personal reality.

Tim Hare

3rd February 2020 at 2:52 am

The argument presumes that there is such a thing as sexuality and sexual orientation. Sexuality is just a mental construct and like all mental constructs it should be examined for its truth. So many times in history we have found that our mental constructs have no basis in fact. Our construct of a flat earth was one of those.

Human beings are not attracted to one and other by the desire for sex. They are attracted to others by many things but sex is not one of those things. No one needs sex. What they might need is orgasms to relieve sexual tension and experience sexual pleasure. You don’t have to have sex to have an orgasm.

The presumption of this argument to protect homosexuals has no basis in fact. It is not a fact that there is a natural group of humans who are attracted by the need for sex of whatever gender. Sex is often what they have when they have become close enough to what ever it is they seek but it is not the reason for their attraction and so ‘sexuality’ cannot be the basis of any kind of discrimination or ‘hate speech’ since such a thing does not exist.

We need to stop pandering to what is fundamentally a rationalization of behaviour which covers some deeper emotional need. People look to have that need met in relationships and some of those relationships become sexual but sex is never the reason for their existence. We all need to be honest about what we are looking for in others and not try and explain our sexual behaviour as an innate drive and sexual orientation as some natural subset of that drive. The choice to have sex is exactly that – a choice. It has nothing to do with some immutable force or characteristic like race or gender. There is no need to protect what does not exist.

Alex Rogers

3rd February 2020 at 5:56 am

Whilst I admire your attempt to fundamentally challenge the way we think about sexuality, I would just like to ask you something; Do you personally feel that way?

It’s all well and good to say that sex is a choice, however, I have no doubt that if you tried to have gay sex you would be physically resulted. (Unless you are gay in which case the same stands for any woman you try to have sex with.)

Philosophical discussion is all well and good but in practise it falls apart.

Alex Rogers

3rd February 2020 at 5:57 am

Physically revolted****

Tim Hare

3rd February 2020 at 6:32 am

I’m not quite sure what your point is but why would I try and have gay sex? If I have to try then it obviously does not come naturally and if sex is not natural then it is not going to be enjoyable.

I don’t think there is any such thing as a ‘gay’ person. There are people who indulge in sexual behaviour with members of their own sex but it does not logically follow that a person is intrinsically oriented towards their own sex for sexual gratification. They may be oriented towards their own sex in order to try and meet some emotional need. That does not mean that sex should naturally follow.

steve moxon

3rd February 2020 at 10:37 am

The most foolish, scientifically illiterate comment in this site for some time.
There is a deep biological need to have sexual intercourse. Orgasm is the neuro-hormonal reward that helps to keep the need for sex salient.

Tim Hare

3rd February 2020 at 10:42 am

How come humans can have an orgasm without having sex then? Seems to contradict your thesis.

steve moxon

3rd February 2020 at 1:24 pm

It doesn’t.
Why would you think it would?!

Tim Hare

3rd February 2020 at 9:51 pm

There is no deep biological need for humans to have sexual intercourse. There might be a need for orgasm. Orgasm is its own reward. It does not have to be a reward for anything else. If the pleasure of orgasm is its own reward then what need is there for sexual intercourse unless you want to produce children. There is obviously not a deep biological need to produce children since so many humans do not produce children. It is a choice that some make to do so.

Therefore there is not a deep biological need for sexual intercourse.

steven brook

3rd February 2020 at 10:41 am

“Human beings are not attracted to one and other by the desire for sex. They are attracted to others by many things but sex is not one of those things. No one needs sex.” As a normal heterosexual man I beg to differ.

Tim Hare

3rd February 2020 at 11:11 am

Why would you think it abnormal to not need sex?

Asif Qadir

3rd February 2020 at 4:28 pm

It isn’t, Timmy Threadbare, but the rest of what you wrote couldn’t be more wrong. Just plain weird, in fact.

Tim Hare

4th February 2020 at 12:36 am

Not so weird that you didn’t feel the need to try and insult me.

Asif Qadir

4th February 2020 at 6:48 am

But you deserve to be insulted for such weirdness, Timmy. Surely you must’ve felt sexual arousal at some point. What do you think a hard-on or a wide-on is?


3rd February 2020 at 12:18 am

Yes, Switzerland must!

T Zazoo

3rd February 2020 at 4:36 am

Sorry is this the right room for an argument?

That’s just contradiction Zennie. Monty Python called you out as ridiculous as long ago as 1972.
“An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of anything the other person says.”

Rock Ape

3rd February 2020 at 8:12 am

Z.P is just a sad troll……….stop feeding the trolls.


3rd February 2020 at 7:03 pm

Ohhhh, no it isn’t!

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