The northern Italian town of Sanoara has offered another chilling reminder of how the West is rejecting free speech at an accelerating pace. Mayor Walter Stefan has announced with some pride that the town is going to make it illegal “to blaspheme against any faith or religion.” That’s right, the town has embraced the same blasphemy used by extremist Muslim countries to punish those who dare speak against religion.
Over the course of the last 50 years, Europe has waged an open war on free speech by criminalizing speech deemed insulting, harassing or intimidating. We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, (here and here and here and here and here and here and here) and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). There are encroachments appearing in the United States, particularly on college campuses. Notably, the media celebrated the speech of French President Emmanuel Macron before Congress where he called on the United States to follow the model of Europe on hate speech.
I have previously criticized such European blasphemy laws (here and here and here). We have been following the international trend (here and here and here and here) to criminalize criticism of religions, including this prior column. The Obama Administration joined the UN Human Rights Council and agreed to create a “new” standard balancing speech and respect for religion. These new standards are merely thinly disguised blasphemy laws that are spreading throughout the world, including the West.
Yet, as I discussed recently, many nations have shifted their efforts to impose blasphemy crimes in favor of broader hate speech and discrimination laws. But not Saonara. It wants to take a bold stance against free speech.
Criticizing religion is one of the core areas of free speech historically. Blasphemy laws are used to protect orthodoxy and religiosity against those who oppose them. This town of 10,000 will be handing out fines and Stefan is delighted to be leading the way to silence his fellow citizens. He is quoted as saying “Blasphemy is offensive, it offends me.”
Of course, that is all it takes. It offends the mayor so he will now silence those views that he finds offensive. It is that easy.