Okay, so Irving's got issues. Should he be put in jail for his opinions?
In Austria, the answer is yes.
Let's be frank up front - I have little sympathy for this man and less respect for his ideas. He's a loathsome little screecher. Perhaps the best argument I have for belittling him is when he was called a Holocaust denier in print, in a book by Deborah Lipstadt, he sued her for libel...in Britain. This is because the libel laws in Britain mean the accused must prove what they said was correct, which is a vast difference from the laws in America, where the burden of proof rests with the accuser to show the statements are incorrect. James Frey would be dead over there, if someone chose to sue him for his fictional biography. (Of course, Frey would be dead over here as well, but at least over there he may be able to get some sightseeing in.)
So Irving sues Lipstadt, which means Lipstadt not only has to prove that Irving denies the Holocaust, which is pretty evident, she has to show that he's wrong in doing so. And Justice Grey finds for Lipstadt, calling Irving "an active Holocaust denier ... anti-Semitic and racist". You can call that a rather big loss.
But he's been arrested for comments he made in 1989, under a law passed in 1992, if the AP story is correct. I mean, beyond the whole concept of the freedom of speech ideal, there's the disquieting thought of being nailed for something you did that was completely legal at the time. (There is a good chance there was a law in 1989 making denying the Holocaust illegal; it's a fairly prevalent law in Europe...but he pled guilty to a law passed since his "crime", which seems odd.) He's been sentenced to three years in jail for having an opinion in public. He now says he believes the Holocaust DID happen (way to hold to ideals there!) and that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. It's like when people over here in the United States find God after they're convicted; he just happened to find an open history book.
As Glenn Greenwald says, this decision has been met with universal condemnation over in America, leading him to posit there are values that all Americans agree on. I do think that's true mostly - most people who condemn idiots like Fred Phelps don't want him in jail for his beliefs, just out of their particular community. I myself go with the saying "Sunlight is the best disinfectant" - tell people the facts about both sides of an argument (and not in the pathetic "balanced" style - don't parrot one group's completely wrong statements as gospel truth) and let everyone see where the evidence lies.
Of course, you DO have the people who say that disagreement with Bush's policies are treason and should be responded to with imprisonment, a la Michael Reagan's ""Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!" On a lesser note is the idea that people who disagree with Bush are liberal - people like Andrew Sullivan and, recently, William Buckley. So imprisonment, nah...but condemnation for not being lockstep is fine.
Not nearly as bad as imprisonment and not nearly what it should be.