From Schmidt To Bahrdt
In the German-speaking world, substantial freedom of the press emerged from the multiple jurisdictions in the region, but authors were still imprisoned for their publications. Johann Lorenz Schmidt's (1702–1749) rationalist translation of the Bible in 1735 was outlawed in 1737, and he was imprisoned but escaped. The introduction to his German translation (1741) of Matthew Tindal's Christianity as Old as the Creation included a 130-page prefatory essay on freedom of the press, which may have been the first extended critique of censorship in German. Schmidt also translated Spinoza's Ethics into German in 1744.
Joseph II (1741–1790) relaxed press controls in the Habsburg Empire, and Frederick II of Prussia (1712–1786) generally limited censorship to political matters, not attacks on religion. In the decades of ferment after about 1770, many German writers called for press freedom. Christoph Martin Wieland's periodical German Mercury called press freedom the palladium of humanity in 1784; August Ludwig von Schlözer's Letters to Eichstädt in Vindication of Publicity (1785) rejected a bishop's censorship; and Johannes Kern's Letters on Freedom of Thought, Belief, Speech, and the Press (1786) based such freedoms on the social nature of mankind. The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) elevated press freedom into the transcendental principle of public law.
Carl Friedrich Bahrdt's On Freedom of the Press and Its Limits (1787) consolidated much of the foregoing German material into an extended critique of censorship. He labeled freedom of the press a human right and argued that people only really believe truths they have found for ourselves. He opposed suppression of atheism and claimed that all human progress depends on mutual communication. Bahrdt was willing to condone censorship of state secrets and private matters and spelled out what later became known as the public figure doctrine. His satire of the Prussian king Frederick William II, The Edict of Religion (1788), landed him in prison for more than a year.