Previously we discussed the new French law making it a crime for citizens to deny or minimize the genocide of Armenians by Turks in the early 20th century. It was discussed as part of a worrisome trend of limitations on free speech in the West through blasphemy, hate speech, and discrimination laws. Now the French Supreme Court has shown all of the principle that was so lacking in the government and struck down the law. In so doing, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the French commitment to liberty. To those jurists, I say “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!”
The law would have punished such a denial with up to a year in prison and a maximum fine of roughly $60,000. Last year, when France’s Parliament was first considering the bill, we said on this page that we found it to be a particularly egregious encroachment on civil liberties. The French council has now concluded much the same, saying such a law “infringed unconstitutionally on the exercise of the liberty of expression and communication.”
Yet, French President Sarkozy is undeterred and vowed to redraft the law. There is some language of concern in the decision from the Constitutional Council where it suggested that some limitations could be placed on speech to protect privacy and public order, but that such limitations must be “necessary, adapted and proportional.” Notably, we have the same caveat in our own first amendment opinions, but its meaning could differ significantly in future cases. That was enough of an opening for the government. Sarkozy’s office seemed to immediately latch on to the language and stated that “The President of the Republic considers that (genocide) denial is intolerable and must therefore be punished.” What is intolerable, however, is using the criminal code to combat anti-historical speech — as defined by the government. If government can define the “correct” history for citizens to recite, they can rewrite history in their preferred image.
Source: News Observer