The ruling was the result of an appeal to a verdict in a state court, which said the use of slogans and symbolism from unconstitutional organisations was illegal regardless of the language.
In September 2005, the defendant was found to possess 100 t-shirts that read “Blood & Honour/C18” on the front along with the image of a hand holding a pistol and the phrase “support your local section.” The backside of the t-shirt read “Blood & Honour is our voice Combat 18 is our choice.”
The phrases were translated into English from Hitler Youth slogans, while Blood and Honour is an international neo-Nazi organisation banned in Germany in 2000. The state court in Gera fined the man €4,200 for the t-shirts because it found he knew the origin of the phrases.
But the federal court, or Bundesgerichtshof, decided that the use of the Hitler Youth phrases in a foreign language did not fall under Paragraph 86a of the Strafgesetzbuch, or German criminal code, which is specifically concerned with Nazi symbolism.
The court said that Nazi symbolism had been “characteristically shaped” by the German language and that translation into other languages was not included in the law.
The man's use of the “Blood and Honour” reference could however still be punishable because it is a banned organisation, the judge said, adding that the court had not reviewed that element of the case. Neither did the court review whether the man was in violation of laws against supporting and disseminating information for an anti-constitutional organisation.
These questions will be answered in a separate hearing, the judge said.