Lost in Translation English Nazi Slogans Are Legal, German Court Rules

Using Nazi symbols and slogans is a punishable crime in Germany. But now neo-Nazis may have more leeway after a federal German court ruled that slogans are not illegal if they are translated into another language.

Is a Nazi slogan still a Nazi slogan if it is uttered in English instead of German? Not necessarily -- at least according to Germany's Federal Court of Justice.

This 2006 police photo shows propaganda material seized from the banned Blood and Honour group.

This 2006 police photo shows propaganda material seized from the banned Blood and Honour group.

Foto: AP / LKA Baden-Württemberg

In a landmark decision Thursday, the Karlsruhe-based court ruled that using Nazi slogans translated into a language other than German would not, in general, be a punishable crime.

The ruling is linked to a case in which a neo-Nazi was prosecuted and fined €4,200 ($6,000) in 2005 for distributing clothing and merchandising bearing the slogan "Blood and Honour," written in English. With the ruling, the court overturned the verdict against the neo-Nazi, who was not named, but said it could still be possible to prosecute him under other laws relating to right-wing extremism.

Although "Blood and Honour," which is also the name of a banned far-right organization, alludes to the Hitler Youth motto "Blut und Ehre," the court ruled that translating the words represented a "fundamental change" in the slogan, meaning its use was no longer punishable under German law. The judges said that Nazi slogans were characterized not only by their actual meaning but also by the fact that they were in German.

Senior judge Jörg-Peter Becker said that the court "is aware that its decision gives neo-Nazis a degree of leeway to translate their chants and slogans." However, he added that legislation by itself is not enough to eliminate Nazi ideas from public discourse.

Giving the Hitler salute or using symbols or slogans associated with "unconstitutional" organizations such as the Nazi party is a serious crime in Germany, punishable by up to three years in prison. In 2008, police launched an investigation after a senior member of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) draped a banned swastika flag  across a coffin at a funeral.

cox -- wire reports