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France

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on January 22, 2015

  • Pennsylvania has passed that grotesque new law seeking to muzzle convicts from discussing crimes when “mental anguish” to victims could result. Time for courts to strike it down [Radley Balko, earlier]
  • “First Amendment challenge to broad gag order on family court litigants” [Eugene Volokh]
  • Federally funded Indiana U. program to monitor political opinion on Twitter didn’t much like being monitored itself by critics [Free Beacon, earlier (project "intensely if covertly political")]
  • Holocaust denial laws abridge the freedom of speech. Do they even accomplish their own aims? [Sam Schulman, Weekly Standard]
  • Is it defamatory to call someone a “censorious a**hat”? [Adam Steinbaugh, Eric Turkewitz, earlier on Roca Labs case]
  • We should take up a collection to translate Voltaire into French [Reason, Huffington Post on Dieudonne case, yesterday on talk of "Fox maligned Paris" suit]
  • Some would-be speech suppressers upset over Citizens United ruling also quite happy to drown out Justices’ speech [Mark Walsh, SCOTUSBlog] “Campaign finance censors lose debate to Reddit” [Trevor Burrus] Citizens United “probably the most misunderstood case in modern legal history.” [Ilya Shapiro]

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So the real lesson for tourists is that they should think of Paris as having no-speech zones [Poynter, Volokh]

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Imprécis sur le concept

by Walter Olson on January 15, 2015

France has arrested 54 persons “not… linked to the attacks” over alleged hate speech [AP, Matt Welch, earlier on wavering European commitment to free expression]

Bonus: “Knowledge starts as offendedness”: new Jonathan Rauch video interview for FIRE on free speech from the Salman Rushdie case to now.

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Jonathan Turley in the Washington Post explores at more length a point I made briefly in my TIME opinion piece: to honor the slain cartoonists of Charlie-Hebdo, we should be lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write and say, rather than, as France and other countries have been doing in recent years, bringing it under tighter legal constraint in the name of equality and the prevention of offense:

Indeed, if the French want to memorialize those killed at Charlie Hebdo, they could start by rescinding their laws criminalizing speech that insults, defames or incites hatred, discrimination or violence on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, sex or sexual orientation. These laws have been used to harass the satirical newspaper and threaten its staff for years.

The numerous court actions brought against Charlie Hebdo by religious groups (as of 2011, organizations connected with the Catholic church had taken the magazine to court 13 times, Muslim groups once) are only the beginning:

[Other] cases have been wide-ranging and bizarre. In 2008, for example, Brigitte Bardot was convicted for writing a letter to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy about how she thought Muslims and homosexuals were ruining France. In 2011, fashion designer John Galliano was found guilty of making anti-Semitic comments against at least three people in a Paris cafe. In 2012, the government criminalized denial of the Armenian genocide (a law later overturned by the courts, but Holocaust denial remains a crime). …Last year, Interior Minister Manuel Valls moved to ban performances by comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, declaring that he was “no longer a comedian” but was rather an “anti-Semite and racist.” It is easy to silence speakers who spew hate or obnoxious words, but censorship rarely ends with those on the margins of our society….

Recently, speech regulation in France has expanded into non-hate speech, with courts routinely intervening in matters of opinion. For example, last year, a French court fined blogger Caroline Doudet and ordered her to change a headline to reduce its prominence on Google — for her negative review of a restaurant.

Related: National Post and Jacob Gershman, WSJ Law Blog, on efforts to repeal Canada’s not-entirely-in-disuse blasphemy law; earlier here and here. And from Ireland, an urgent reason to repeal its own law of this sort: Muslim leader vows to “take legal advice if Irish publications …republish or tweet cartoons.” [Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Independent]

P.S. Graham Smith on Twitter: “What if every State represented in Paris today promised to repeal one law that restricts free speech?”

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Murder in Paris, cont’d

by Walter Olson on January 8, 2015

Time magazine invited me to write an opinion piece on yesterday’s lethal Islamist attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo. (earlier here). Excerpt:

If you defend freedom of speech today, realize that “blasphemy” is its front line, in Paris and the world. …

Most of the prestige Western press dodged the running of the [Danish Mohammed] cartoons, and beneath the talk of sensitivity was often simple fear. As journalist Josh Barro noted today on Twitter, “Islamists have by and large succeeded in intimidating western media out of publishing images of Muhammad.” …

[On the modern European rise of laws against "defamation of religion" and related offenses]: One way we can honor Charb, Cabu, Wolinski, Tignous, and the others who were killed Wednesday is by lifting legal constraints on what their successors tomorrow can draw and write.

Also recommended, this thoughtful Ross Douthat column on blasphemy and religious offense. Douthat is not enthusiastic about blasphemy generally, but makes an exception for instances where it is done in defiance of grave dangers. “If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said … it’s precisely the violence that justifies the inflammatory content. … if publishing something might get you slaughtered and you publish it anyway, by definition you *are* striking a blow for freedom, and that’s precisely the context when you need your fellow citizens to set aside their squeamishness and rise to your defense.”

“So many of Charb’s fellow journalists have long been aware of these threats, and have said nothing,” writes Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard. Jytte Klausen, author of a book on the Danish cartoon episode, in Time: “Over the past five years, [the editors of Charlie-Hebdo] have been left alone standing in defense of press freedom.” And Alex Massie at The Spectator:

[The 1989 fatwa against Salman Rushdie] was a test too many people failed back then. We have learned a lot since then but in many ways we have also learned nothing at all.

In 2012, Rushdie wondered if any publisher would have the courage to endorse The Satanic Verses if it were written then. To ask the question was to sense the depressing answer. They would not.

As for the present day, CNN, NYT, AP, NBC, ABC, the BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, and the CBC, will *not* be running Charlie-Hebdo cartoons, though a number of American publications did so, including Daily Beast, Vox, and Bloomberg. No UK paper on Thursday morning runs the cartoons on its cover — though the Berliner-Zeitung in Germany publishes a full spread of them.

23 cartoonists respond [BuzzFeed]. Claire Berlinski’s firsthand account of the attack scene, and Charb’s now-famous “die standing” vow. Andrew Stuttaford at Secular Right on whether anything will now change in Europe’s slow constriction of free speech: he fears not (& Hans Bader, CEI).

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Murder at Charlie-Hebdo

by Walter Olson on January 7, 2015

JeSuisCharlie2

Had there been any doubt that the freedom of speech and expression of the West is under siege from violent Islamism, it ended in the scene at Paris satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo, assaulted by Islamist gunmen in a siege that has left twelve dead. Early reports indicate careful planning: the attack took place during a morning staff meeting at which top talent had gathered, and the murderers are said to have been equipped with a list of artists whose work they deemed disrespectful of Islam. At least four leading French cartoonists were killed.

It is one of the darkest days of the new century so far for the cause of free expression. But it is far from an unexpected day. The portents have been building for years: in the way the Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoonists, like author Salman Rushdie before them, had to go into hiding over supposed blasphemy; in the 2011 firebombing of Charlie-Hebdo, covered by the Weekly Standard here; in the way the French government had repeatedly pressured Charlie-Hebdo not to, well, go so far in giving offense [The Guardian]. Even after today’s events, many Western broadcasters and publishers continue to pixilate or blur out the Charlie-Hebdo images — not the images of slaughter in Paris streets, but mere cartoon images of men in Middle Eastern garb.

And yes, fear has shaped the actions of publishers in the United States too. Where Charlie-Hebdo was courageous on the Mohammed cartoons, Yale University Press was oh so craven, as the late Christopher Hitchens pointed out in Slate [more: Guardian; note also the history of the online, mostly U.S.-originated "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day"]
TyrannyOfSilence
In a new Cato Institute book entitled The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech, discussed at more length by Kat Murti at Cato at Liberty, Danish journalist Flemming Rose, who was at the center of the Motoons controversy, traces the grim aftermath of that controversy in the self-silencing of Western opinion. [more coverage here, as well as a Law and Liberty podcast]

The danger now is not that there will be no outpouring of solidarity and grief and indignation in coming days, in France and around the West. Of course there will. The danger is that after the Charlie-Hebdo story passes from the headlines and other stories take its place, writers and publishers and artists and thinkers in the West will adjust to a new reality of fear, stifling the output of their minds and pens and keyboards for fear of giving provocation. If they don’t adjust, there are legal, insurance, and risk advisors at publications and universities who will be willing to do it for them.

And maybe lawmakers as well. Already, blasphemy laws are back on the march in Europe, after many years in which it was assumed they were a relic of the past. They must go no further. The best way to show resolution is to remove, not add, legal penalties for speech that offends (some) religious sensibilities.

From journalist David Jack on Twitter:

A comment of mine, also on Twitter:

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It’s happening just as warned. Janet Fletcher at the Los Angeles Times:

…cheese counters could soon be a lot less aromatic, with several popular cheeses falling victim to a more zealous U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Roquefort — France’s top-selling blue — is in the agency’s cross hairs along with raw-milk versions of Morbier, St. Nectaire and Tomme de Savoie. …

Of course, French creameries haven’t changed their recipes for any of these classic cheeses. But their wheels are flunking now because the FDA has drastically cut allowances for a typically harmless bacterium by a factor of 10.

The new rules have resulted in holds even on super-safe Parmigiano Reggiano, and the risk of losing a costly shipment of a perishable commodity is likely to be enough to drive many European producers out of the market for export to America entirely. Highly praised artisanal cheese makers in the United States are facing shutdown as well. [Michael Gebert, Chicago Reader] Earlier on the FDA and cheese regulation here and, from Cato, here (2010 predictions, before FSMA passed), here, here, etc.

They told us this administration was going to be run by wine and cheese faculty liberals. Now where are they when they could actually do us some good?

Related, note that the regulatory pressure is coming from both sides of the Atlantic: “Newsweek: French cheesemakers crippled by EU health measures” [Cheese Notes, with discussion of role of giant manufacturers whose processed cheese operations can comply with the rules] (& welcome The Week, Reason readers; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty)

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Food roundup

by Walter Olson on July 24, 2014

“A French judge has ruled against a blogger because her scathing restaurant review was too prominent in Google search results.” Caroline Doudet “was sued by the owner of Il Giardino restaurant in the Aquitaine region of southwestern France after she wrote a blogpost entitled ‘the place to avoid in Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino'”. [BBC]

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Margaret Ryznar at PrawfsBlawg:

…in France, there are almost no will contests brought on the grounds of a lack of capacity, fraud, or undue influence. In the United States, on the other hand, 3% and 5% of all wills executed will be contested, most commonly, on undue influence grounds. Why the difference?

Two elements of French law — mandatory shares for children and the role of specialized officers known as notaires who assist in document preparation — would be hard to duplicate here. Another institutional step that might reduce the incidence of costly probate struggles, however, would be to adopt (as three states have) what is known as antemortem probate, a right of testators to go to court during their lifetime seeking to have their testaments validated against challenge. “The proceeding allows judicial evaluation of the testator’s capacity, intent, and freedom from undue influence or fraud during the testator’s lifetime, which has the obvious benefit of the presence of the testator at the proceedings.”

It seems, however, that the antemortem probate procedure is seldom used in the American states where it is available. (Nor are official registries of wills, another aspect of the French system Ryznar describes as “easily adoptable” here and indeed in effect in some states.) Is the process going unused mostly because of unfamiliarity, or because persons whose estates will end up being contested on grounds of undue influence do not commonly recognize that? Or are there other reasons the procedure might be unpopular, such as an unwillingness to offend family members who are getting less than they might like?

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March 5 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 5, 2014

  • U.S. Commission on Civil Rights commissioners Gail Heriot, Peter Kirsanow: Administration’s new policy on race and school discipline likely to make schools more chaotic [Robby Soave, Daily Caller, 2011 related, earlier here, etc.]
  • French court: fan club members suffered legally cognizable emotional damage from Michael Jackson’s death [Lowering the Bar, earlier]
  • “The Newkirk incident demonstrates why cameras in the courtroom are a bad idea” [James Taranto, includes bonus New York Times disgrace]
  • Claim: advocates stymied firearms research over most of past two decades. Accurate? [Fox News]
  • Another look at the CPSC’s war on former Buckyballs CEO Craig Zucker [Jim Epstein, Reason, earlier]
  • Chris Christie use of monitorships in white-collar prosecutions draws renewed scrutiny [New Republic, earlier]
  • In which I am included in a list with George Will and Heather Mac Donald, all very flattering etc. etc. [Charles C. W. Cooke, NRO]
  • D.C.: disbarred lawyer sat for years as workers comp judge [Washington City Paper]
  • “German home-school family won’t be deported” although Supreme Court declines to hear asylum appeal [AP; discussion in comments earlier]

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Stewart Baker is running a year-end contest to name the most regrettable uses of privacy law over the past year. Among his nominations: the “Agriculture Department, which cited privacy grounds in refusing to name any of the beneficiaries of the notoriously fraud-ridden ‘Pigford‘ settlement”; Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who imposed millions of dollars in fines on private health companies for lacking adequate technical controls on the privacy of health data, “even when there was no evidence that any data had been compromised,” at the same time as her own department was launching healthcare.gov, a data intake site with much more critical privacy and safety flaws; racing mogul Max Mosley, who prevailed on a French court to order Google to de-index scandal coverage of Mosley’s recreational indiscretions; and federal judge Lucy Koh, for finding Gmail’s business model potentially violative of wiretap laws. All the examples above were winners in their categories, save Mosley who trailed behind two others in the category “Worst Use of Privacy Law to Protect Power and Privilege.”

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“French officials have fined a pub in Brittany €9,000 for “undeclared labour” after a customer returned some empty glasses to the bar. For customers at the Mamm-Kounifl concert-café in Locmiquélic, carrying drinks trays and used glasses back to the bar was a polite tradition.” [Independent]

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on December 19, 2013

  • After Rolling Stone interview comments on race in America, Bob Dylan hit with hate speech proceeding in… France? [Popehat]
  • “The Buckyballs Guy Is Suing the Feds Over Free Speech” [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]
  • “Reconsidering Citizens United as a Press Clause Case” [Michael McConnell, YLJ via Volokh] “Freedom for the Press — Protection for an Industry/Profession, or for All Users of a Technology?” [Eugene Volokh, more]
  • Liability for content posted by third parties? “Ex-cheerleader’s defamation suit puts Internet giants on edge” [CBS News]
  • Forced expression tramples freedom: Cato asks SCOTUS to review ruling against New Mexico wedding photographer [Ilya Shapiro, earlier here, etc.] Related: Mike Masnick questioning why the ACLU is on the wrong side, a topic I’ve covered here too;
  • “Three puzzling things about NYT v. Sullivan” [Len Niehoff, Communications Lawyer]
  • “Why can’t we admit we’re scared of Islamism?” [Nick Cohen, Spectator]

Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on July 31, 2013

  • “Bryon Farmer of the Blackfeet Tribe Jailed For Talking About Corruption In Tribal Government” [Ken at Popehat] “Popehat Signal: Vengeful AIDS Denialist Sues Critic In Texas” [same]
  • Persons with federal government contracts can’t give to federal candidates or parties. Too broad? [Ilya Shapiro and Trevor Burrus, Cato]
  • “Together at last! ‘Some US conservatives laud Russia’s anti-gay bill.'” [@jon_rauch on Associated Press re: "propaganda" measure]
  • More on Second Circuit decision ruling scientific conclusions akin to protected opinion for defamation purposes [Digital Media Law Project, earlier]
  • San Antonio bars appointment to its city boards and commissions of anyone who has ever said anything demonstrating bias “against any person, group or organization on the basis of race” or various other protected categories [Eugene Volokh]
  • Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader wins defamation suit holding gossip site operator liable for user comments [Sporting News] Michigan: “Ionia newspaper editor files defamation suit against critics” [MLive, Popehat with a critical view, update at Popehat following dismissal]
  • “Hate speech” at issue: “Twitter releases users’ identities to French authorities after tough legal battles.” [JOLT]

Food roundup

by Walter Olson on June 19, 2013

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“A law working its way through [the French] parliament would grant amnesty to workers who have ransacked their company’s offices or threatened their bosses during a labor dispute.” [USA Today via Jon Hyman]

  • Seventh Circuit upholds Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s public sector labor law reform [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
  • In theory, California workers fired for cause aren’t entitled to unemployment compensation. In practice… [Coyote]
  • Comstockery meets occupational licensure: how New York’s Cabaret Law tripped up Billie Holiday [Bryan Caplan]
  • New Jersey lawmakers move to cut nonunion workers out of Hurricane Sandy recovery jobs [Jersey Journal]
  • Cheer up, plaintiff’s bar, you’re doing very well these days out of FLSA wage-and-hour actions [Max Kennerly]
  • Back to “spiking”: “CalPERS planning to gut a key cost-control provision of new pension law” [Daniel Borenstein, Contra Costa Times] When government negotiates with public sector unions over pay, the process should be transparent to taxpayers and the public [Nick Dranias, Goldwater Institute]
  • Sacre bleu! Labor law reform reaches France [NYT]