Laws change over time, and that is an understatement. Things that were once abhorrent to the majority of the population, and severely punished, were made legal. For instance, in most of Europe, in the eighteenth century, it was illegal not to be a Christian, or to be from the wrong brand of Christianity. Now, we, at least in the Western World, take freedom of religion for granted. In the eighteenth century, being a homosexual could result in burning at the stake, and severe penalties for homosexuality persisted in several Western countries until a few decades ago. Yet, now, though there is still considerable unease about homosexuality in certain parts of society, no sizeable part of the population seriously suggests that we go back to forced castration, imprisonment, or burning at the stake.

Note that some of the changes listed above have not happened in much of the remaining of the world, and that we in our societies often castigate other countries, other cultures for not having dropped practices that we consider abusive or barbaric.

Change can also occur in the other direction: things once considered normal are now prohibited. It used to be legal to have children work in factories and mines, often in dangerous conditions, now this is unthinkable in the Western world. Slavery was also considered fairly normal, and was justified by the conventional wisdom that “Negroes” were so inferior to Whites that they needed to be dominated for their own good. Some decades ago, cars did not have safety belts, and speed limits did not exist or were seldom enforced ; now, safety belts are compulsory in many places, and motorists can expect Döppler radar to catch them if they are speeding.

In all cases, changes did not occur without a resistance. There were arguments for and against the proposed laws. Occasionally, opposition to the change degenerated in revolt or even civil war. Now, in our democratic societies, changes are supposed to take place through votes following a debate. Debate is possible only if the arguments for and against the proposed changes can be heard.

From this historical perspective, it follows that we must expect that some legal changes will be proposed that we find abhorrent, contrary to our standards, or immoral. Yet, it should be possible to debate these changes. If we make it impossible for others to propose what they think is right, we may expect that one day, when it is our turn to make proposals, others will attempt to censor us.

The crux of the problem of governance in democratic societies is that there is no magical compass, no all-knowledgeable Oracle, that can be used to dictate what is good and what is not. Some people argue that what their political ideology or religion dictates is right, and all other opinions stray from the one true path; yet this approach suffers from the fact that there are several competing ideologies and religions, not to mention internal differences within these, and that there is no a priori way to choose one over the other. Many of us have a tendency to believe that we experienced as “normal” within our societies, our families, is “best”. Yet, others elsewhere in the world, in other social surroundings, consider other things as “normal”. Unless we wish to adopt the point of view of those that Georges Brassens called the “happy imbeciles who are born somewhere”, we are forced to admit that some of the things that we consider normal are not considered as such by others, who are not necessarily inferior to us.

Real debate supposes that thoughtful arguments can be exchanged. This means that people should be free to speak their opinion as to which political decisions should be taken, without fear of censorship, except in rare cases such as incitations to murder or similar. Absent censorship, there are others societal factors that may have a chilling effect on political speech. One of these is fear of retribution at home or at the workplace. Is there real freedom of speech if you risk being laid off from your work for supporting the “wrong” party, the “wrong” policies?

I am not saying that it should not be possible to discipline or lay off some employee for certain speech: for instance, a diplomat should not express personal controversial views on other countries. In this case, the offensive speech is related to the work the person is involved in. Would it be right to dismiss, say, a nuclear physicist, for supporting the legalization of cannabis? I guess not.

This brings us to the problem of Erik Möller. Mr Möller seems to hold views about child sexuality and the legal restrictions surrounding it that I do not support (but due to translation issues I am not too sure what he supports exactly). You could say I think that he is “wrong”, at least on some issues. Yet, I am not so vain that I do not consider that I could be wrong, especially since I am nowhere a specialist of that domain.

Mr Möller's views could be relevant to his employment if he were, say, child psychologist, or kindergarten teacher. His job description, however, rather seems to be in the technical and financial administration of a collection of Web sites, which anyway came to existence after he wrote the text that he is most criticized for.

The rationale for forcing Mr Möller to resign, or having him laid off (and possibly deported from the United States) is not that his opinions could have a direct influence on his job. One hardly sees how one's views on child sexuality are relevant to the management of an arrays of computers and associated software applications, or to the management of grants. The only reasons I have seen mentioned are basically, first, that his life should be made miserable because we do not like people like him, and second, that whether it is fair or unfair, he is now a liability for the Wikimedia foundation and should be laid off because of the bad press he could bring.

The first reason I do not quite like. I occasionally have to work with people that support political views that I disagree with, yet I do not support laying them off just for this reason. The second reason is eminently pragmatic, but somehow seems like yielding to bullying tactics. We know all too well that yielding to bullying leads to more bullying.

I am honestly unsure about the right course of action at this point — this is anyway not my decision to make. I am however quite disappointed to see that we are now dealing not with objections to Wikipedia itself, but to ad hominem attacks from scandal rags.