Should this man be locked up? Not for his hair, not for his clothes, but for his speech?
That’s the question that arises once again as French authorities charge John Galliano, an apparently famous designer I’d never heard of before, with inciting racial hatred, which is against the law in France. It seems that Galliano got plastered in a bar and decided to spew out some anti-Semitic slurs. You know, the sort of thing that’s just a typical Friday night for Charlie Sheen.
Now we can all agree, I hope, that Galliano, like Sheen, is an idiot. He’s vicious, misguided, backward, mouthy, arrogant. Add your own negatives here: _______________________________.
He’s all of those things. But we can grant all this and still ask: Should there be laws against this kind of trash talk? Does the state have a clear and compelling interest in preventing people from saying these things? Is this the kind of thing that judges and juries ought to be examining? The full piece is here.
And of course Galliano is not the first person to be prosecuted under such laws. Here is a piece by a member of the Dutch Parliament now facing trial for similar crimes. A couple years ago, the former sex bomb Brigitte Bardot, now an animal rights activist, was charged with anti-Muslim slurs when she slammed the Muslim practice of killing sheep and other animals for some feast or other. (Uh-oh. I may be guilty of the same crime.)
France’s laws against hate speech stand in sharp contrast to last week’s U. S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of a tiny and loathsome religious sect, the Westboro Baptist Church, to engage in a very prominent kind of hate speech as they stage anti-gay protests at the funerals of American military personnel killed in combat. (Full story here.)
Talk about an “only in America” moment: These nuts, in our system, have the right to present their twisted ideology at ceremonies honoring men and women who had absolutely nothing to do with the issue they want to present.
The Westborians claim that their God is punishing America for tolerating gays, but they don’t want to picket outside gay bars or disrupt Gay Pride parades. You see, in their weird scheme of things, God is punishing us by having our soldiers killed. Therefore, by a long leap of logic, the zealots’ constitutional right of free speech allows them to picket at these funerals, said the Court in an 8-1 decision.
You can’t make this stuff up. It was one of those decisions that makes you think that we are indeed condemned to be free. If that kind of weirdly tangential “free speech” is okay, what, if anything, is not?
But you know what? If you’ve followed the Supremes over the years, the decision wasn’t even surprising or unexpected. I would have bet $1,000 the decision would come down this way . Were you surprised some years ago when the Supremes upheld the “right” of animal sacrifice for practitioners of voodoo? I wasn’t. That’s just how we roll here in the land of the loud. Justice Alito, the lone dissenter in the Westboro case, is out of step with the country because he believes there should be a few narrowly drawn restrictions on free speech. The rest of hold our noses and remind ourselves that true freedom of speech must protect the speech we hate–a whole lot of speech we hate— as well as the speech we love.
The Dutch Parliament member cited above believes that Islam is “not so much a religion as it is a totalitarian political ideology disguised as a religion.” I happen to think he’s wrong, and it’s certainly possible that his words might cause emotional pain to Muslims. I hope that he comes to see his error and changes his mind. But I don’t want to see him thrown in jail for his ideas.