We have previously discussed the shocking rollback of free speech in France in the name of combating hate and intolerant speech. The latest fine was imposed on Jean-Marie Le Pen, the father of French conservative presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. His crime was calling Roma “smelly.” It was an offensive and prejudiced comment but the criminal prosecution of such insults demonstrates the slippery slope that France is now on — a slope that inevitably leaves to greater and greater speech control. This is the ninth time that Le Pen has been prosecuted for the crime of insulting other people or groups.
Le Pen, 88, was ordered to pay 5,000 euros for a inciting hate and making racist statements at a press conference in Nice in 2013. On July 4, 2013, Le Pen stated “It appears you have a problem with several hundred Roma who have an irritating and, let’s say, smelly presence in this city [Nice].”
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have even seen comedians targeted with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here). Now a recent complaint filed by a professor against Home Secretary Amber Rudd illustrates vividly how hate speech has become for some people an extension of political disagreements. The complaint by Prof Joshua Silver, an astrophysicist, will not result in any serious investigation but it was recorded as a hate crime allegation under the existing standards. We previously discussed the criminal charges brought against a conservative Dutch politician.
The French are now prosecuting insulting name-calling as criminal matters. Once on that slippery slope, what constitutes insulting language becomes a fluid concept based on changing sensibilities and majoritarian values. The result is a chilling effect on all speech. The solution to bad speech is more speech. Many rightfully denounced Le Pen for his comments. That is the guarantee of free speech — not that people will be silenced but rather refuted in their espousing bigotry.