A case out the United Kingdom is a perfect example of why legislation restricting "hate speech" is a terrible idea.
In April 2016, Mark Meecham of Coatbridge, Scotland, posted a YouTube video of his girlfriend's dog Buddha responding to the words "seig heil" by raising his paw in a Nazi salute and responding to the question "Do you want to gas the Jews?" by jumping to attention. According to Meecham, the video was intended to prank his partner's overdone admiration for her admittedly adorable pet.
"My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is. And so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi," he says at the beginning of the video, titled M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi.
Meecham's video quickly went viral, racking up some three million views and sparking reactions of both amusement and offense. Then police showed up at his door and arrested him for a hate crime.
Specifically, Meecham was charged with violating Section 127 of the U.K.'s Communications Act, which prohibits electronic communications that are "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character." If convicted, could face up to six months in prison and fines of up to £5,000. His trial is ongoing.
Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, testified as a witness for the prosecution at Meecham's trial, saying: "My immediate reaction is that there is a clear distinction to be made between an offhand remark and the amount of effort that is required to train a dog like that. I actually feel sorry for the dog." He added that "material of this kind goes to normalize the anti-Semitic views that frankly we thought we had seen the last of."
The Washington Post was quick to play up that angle, quoting at length from a Fairfield University professor speculating that satirizing Nazis somehow normalizes and emboldens those who hold anti-Semitic views. (Are there really a lot of otherwise neutral YouTube watchers who'll be radicalized by seeing a pug giving Nazi salutes?)
In a follow-up clip, Meecham strenuously denied his video was an endorsement of Nazism. But his intent is beside the point. The man faces jail time for making a dumb YouTube video. Be glad we have a First Amendment here in the U.S.