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European employers have been told they may ban the hijab provided they ban other visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs, a form of neutrality that wouldn't wash in U.S. employment law. At the same time, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. face 50-million euro fines for failing to regulate hate speech to the satisfaction of German authorities, another legal impossibility in the U.S. where the First Amendment protects even hate speech.

The two cases show how deep the divergence is between American ideas about freedom of speech and religion and European conceptions of equality.

U.S. law considers religious freedom a fundamental right that shouldn't be violated except under exceedingly rare conditions.

In Europe, the freedom to believe may be protected, but the freedom to manifest your religion publicly has much less purchase, especially if you're a Muslim.

On free speech, the U.S. and Europe have also gone different ways. The German minister of justice threatened Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc.'s Google search in December, telling them they needed to move faster and better to remove hateful posts that violate German law. Now the minister is proposing a new law in fulfillment of the threat.

The underlying philosophical difference here is about the right of the individual to self-expression. Americans value that classic liberal right very highly--so highly that we tolerate speech that might make others less equal.

Europeans value the democratic collective and the capacity of all citizens to participate fully in it--so much that they are willing to limit individual rights.

Editorial on 03/21/2017

Print Headline: Free speech, European style

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