We have been discussing (and lamenting) the rollback of free speech in France where writers and speakers are now routinely prosecuted for what would be protected political or religious speech in the United States. The latest case involves Robert Menard, mayor of Beziers and a top adviser to Marine Le Pen, who has been found guilty of inciting hatred against Muslims.
Menard was fined 2,000 euros for saying there were too many Muslim children in his city’s schools. It is a stupid and insulting statement. However, it is also a statement reflecting his political beliefs about the impact of immigration on the country.
The prosecutor charged that Menard had reduced children “to their religion, regardless of whether they have French nationality or do not practice”. I agree. However, there remains the question of the right of the government to punish people for expressing such thoughts. Suppressing such statements does little to change minds. It creates the false impression of uniformity of thought and agreement. The way to change minds is to allow bad speech to be met with good speech. Instead, the French government is regulating speech under a highly ambiguous standard that creates a chilling impact on all speech. Writers and speakers do not know when an individual or group will allege that they are inciting hatred with a comment.
As I have previously discussed, it is terribly depressing to see France (once the bastion of freedom) leading the world in cracking down on free speech. The desire to silence those with whom you disagree is a natural desire for many and becomes an insatiable appetite when the government enables speech regulation. Prosecution is not persuasion. If you want to combat Menard, answer his speech with your own countervailing arguments. Changing minds rather than silencing voices should be the universal goal of every free nation.