Banning Speech in the Public Space

Guest post by Rónán Ó Fathaigh, PhD candidate at Ghent University. For more information on Rónán, find him here.

The recent Article 10 judgment in Mouvement Raëlien Suisse v. Switzerland merits some close attention given the important questions of principle which are     arguably involved. The First Section of the European Court found no violation of freedom of expression where Swiss authorities had banned a poster campaign by a quasi-religious association.

The applicant association was the Swiss branch of the Raëlien Movement, an international association whose members believe life on earth was created by extraterrestrials. The applicant association sought to conduct a poster campaign, with the poster featuring extraterrestrials, flying saucers, and the words “The message from the extraterrestrials. At last, science is replacing religion”. The poster also included the website address of the Raëlien Movement.

The police authorities refused permission for the poster campaign on the grounds of public order and morals, and the domestic courts upheld this decision. The Swiss courts held that although the poster itself was not objectionable, because the Raëlien website address was included, the Courts had to have regard to documents published on the Raëlien website. The courts held the poster campaign should be banned on the basis that: (a) there was a link on the website to a company which provided cloning services; (b) the association advocated “geniocracy” i.e. government by those with a higher intelligence; and (c) there had been allegations of sexual offences against some members of the association.

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