Posts Tagged ‘free speech’

France and its speech-throttling litigation

Jacob Sullum on why a nation that mourned the murderous attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo over its provocative speech was nonetheless content to let the magazine be sued, and sued, and sued over such speech:

under French law, insulting people based on their religion is a crime punishable by a fine of 22,500 and six months in jail.

In addition to religion, that law covers insults based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. Defamation (as opposed to mere insult) based on any of those factors is punishable by up to a year in prison, and so is incitement to discrimination, hatred, or violence.

Christopher Caldwell, Wall Street Journal ($):

In France, antiracism set itself squarely against freedom of speech. The passage of the 1990 Gayssot Law, which punished denial of the Holocaust, was a watershed. Activist lobbies sought to expand such protections by limiting discussion of a variety of historical events—the slave trade, colonialism, foreign genocides. This was backed up by institutional muscle. In the 1980s, President François Mitterrand’s Socialist party created a nongovernmental organization called SOS Racisme to rally minority voters and to hound those who worked against their interests.

Older bodies such as the communist-inspired Movement against Racism and for Friendship Among the Peoples made a specialty of threatening (and sometimes carrying out) lawsuits against European intellectuals for the slightest trespasses against political correctness: the late Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci for her post-9/11 lament “The Rage and the Pride,” the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut for doubting that the 2005 riots in France’s suburban ghettos were due to unemployment, the Russia scholar Hélène Carrère d’Encausse for speculating about the role of polygamy in the problems of West African immigrants.

Sullum again:

Other countries that criminalize “hate speech,” including Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Sweden, and Canada, are likewise sending the dangerous message that offending people with words or images is akin to assaulting them with fists or knives. …

Sacrilege may upset people, but it does not violate their rights. By abandoning that distinction, avowed defenders of Enlightenment values capitulate to the forces of darkness.

Earlier here, here, here, here, and generally here.

Free speech roundup

  • Operator of consumer-gripe sites repels subpoena seeking identity of disgruntled consumer posters [Paul Alan Levy]
  • “ACLU: Cancellation of Redskins Trademark Was Unconstitutional” [WSJ Law Blog]
  • Islamists’ targeting of writers and intellectuals in the West for murder is happening rather too often to count as random noise [Eugene Volokh, case of Tennessee professor] American secularist blogger hacked to death in Bangladesh [Guardian]
  • “Philadelphia is the latest locale to insist that photographing police performing their jobs is a crime”; Third Circuit asked to consider First Amendment’s application [Reason]
  • Lawyers for British member of Parliament George Galloway demand £5,000 each from Twitter users over disparaging retweets [Popehat, Independent]
  • With net neutrality done, is it OK yet to talk about how far Left Robert McChesney and the grossly misnamed organization Free Press are? [John Fund, earlier]
  • Ohio judge goes wild against citizen who privately criticized him [Ken at Popehat, more, Jonathan Adler]

Free speech roundup

  • “Victory for ‘Caveman’ Blogger in Free Speech Fight – the right to give advice about what to eat” [Institute for Justice, earlier]
  • “Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic?” Given campus trends, it might soon be [Wendy Kaminer]
  • Logic of rejecting heckler’s veto points likewise to rejecting its savage cousin, terrorists’ veto [Ronald Collins]
  • Someone tried to yank a Minnesota urbanist’s engineering license because of things he wrote on his blog. It didn’t work [Strong Towns; compare first roundup item]
  • Departing NPR ombudsman would take free speech law back to ’50s, and that means 1850s not 1950s [Volokh, earlier]
  • The last time I saw Paris, it was making a fool of itself in litigation [Mediaite, Huffington Post, earlier on city’s threats to sue Fox]
  • Argentina: state uses control over soccer broadcasts to beam propaganda denouncing opposition [David Kopel] “Dissenting voices silenced in Pakistan’s war of the web” [Jon Boone, Guardian]

After Copenhagen: live-tweeting Flemming Rose at Cato

On Sunday an Islamist gunman attacked a panel discussion on “Art, blasphemy and the freedom of expression” being held at a cultural center in Copenhagen:

One of the panel speakers, and the likely target of the attack, was Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who appeared on the March 2013 al Qaeda magazine Inspire “hit list,” along with Charlie Hebdo’s Charb, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others. Vilks has faced many perils, some of them in the U.S., since drawing a sketch of Muhammad a decade ago.

I am particularly proud of my own Cato Institute for publishing and recently hosting Danish editor Flemming Rose, who like Vilks appears on the al-Qaeda hit list. Rose is foreign editor of Jyllands-Posten, the newspaper in Denmark that published the famous Muhammad cartoons and nearly a decade later remains heavily guarded by police. In the wake of Sunday’s attack, I decided to tweet some highlights from a November Cato panel in which author Jonathan Rauch, known for his writings in defense of free speech (and an old friend), interviewed Rose about his new book The Tyranny of Silence and its implications. Referring to the famed page of Muhammad cartoons:

Remember, this panel was taped in November, which makes Rose’s next comment especially poignant:

A major theme of the conversation was hate speech laws, widely adopted in Europe, but not in the United States due to our First Amendment jurisprudence:

“It basically boils down to a wrong reading of the reasons behind the Holocaust,” Rose said (31:30). It wasn’t free speech that cleared a path for the Nazis: “In Weimar Germany you had hate speech laws on the books” (32:15). And in fact the “vast majority” of European hate speech laws now in effect date not to the period after 1945, but to that since the fall of the Berlin Wall (34:30)

Now the idea is ramifying:

While the U.S. Supreme Court has been a bulwark against hate-speech prohibitions, their advocates have made some inroads in academia:

But it’s complicated:

Which drew in Greg Lukianoff himself with a comment:

This was to become the most shared entry in my series:

There was also a side conversation (you can read it here) about a comment by Lars Vilks, the attacked Swedish artist:

I read “meaningless” in this context to stand for “futile”: a madman unable to achieve his goal does not become sane, but may switch projects. The way to make an attack on speech futile is make clear that the resented speech will continue unbowed or even intensified, as Vilks has done by continuing to pursue his work and proclaim his views in public and without apology — good advice for us on this side of the Atlantic, too.

Earlier on the Charlie Hebdo attack; on wobbling U.S. leadership in international forums on the speech topic; on blasphemy laws, and my piece in Time last month, “Blasphemy Is at the Front Lines of Free Speech Today“.

Free speech roundup

  • Departing NPR ombudsman claims U.S. free speech guarantees wouldn’t protect Charlie Hebdo, many on Twitter would like to set him straight on that [Edward Schumacher-Matos] More: Hans Bader.
  • Ninth Circuit urged to revisit whether First Amendment protects right to refer to real-world players in fantasy sports [Volokh]
  • Multi-party parliamentary panel in Britain proposes banning persons who “spread racial hatred” from Twitter, Facebook, other social media [BBC] Visiting newsagents: “Police from several UK forces seek details of Charlie Hebdo readers” [The Guardian]
  • Ecuador regime continues counterattack against social media critics at home and abroad [Adam Steinbaugh (Twitter suspends account “for posting DMCA notice”), The Guardian, earlier] Cartoonist “Bonil” put on trial [Freedom House]
  • Burt Neuborne, Robert Corn-Revere debate Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar case: “Should elected judges be allowed to ask for donations?” [National Constitution Center podcast with Jeffrey Rosen via Ronald Collins, Concurring Opinions]
  • Second Circuit confirms: law allowing expungement of arrest records doesn’t require media to go back and delete related news stories [AP, Volokh]
  • Rakofsky suit against legal bloggers and other defendants (more than 80 in all) sputters toward apparent conclusion [Turkewitz, more (need for stronger protections against speech-chilling suits under New York law)]

State of free speech doctrine at Harvard

Harvard lawprof Noah Feldman on the Paris/Fox case: let government sue media for saying (or maybe even for letting guests say) wrong things about government. Sure, what could go wrong?

Related, and outrageous: Morgan State University (Baltimore) journalism school dean wants to classify religiously irreverent speech as “fighting words,” which would throw into doubt its legal protection [DeWayne Wickham, USA Today] More: Allahpundit, Taranto/WSJ, The College Fix; edited to reflect Wickham’s (non)-clarification of his stance in the last-named link).

P.S. Via @benjaminlam: “Today’s Straits Times [Singapore] carried Feldman’s article.”

Free speech roundup

  • 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]

Free speech and free expression roundup

  • Boss Tweed, in legend, railing against cartoonists: “I don’t care so much what the papers write about — my constituents can’t read — but damn it, they can see pictures.” [David Boaz, Cato] “Jyllands-Posten Not Reprinting Charlie Hebdo Mohammed Cartoons Because ‘Violence Works'” [Ed Krayewski, Reason]
  • “Police Scotland will thoroughly investigate any reports of offensive or criminal behaviour online and anyone found to be responsible will be robustly dealt with.” That includes TV personalities’ tweets disparaging to Glasgow [BBC, Alex Massie/Spectator, Elizabeth Nolan Brown] More: Calls mount for repeal of Australia Section 18C speech-crime law, which would ban the French magazine Charlie Hebdo if someone tried to publish it down there [Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, earlier on Andrew Bolt case]
  • “Hate speech” concept got rolling when Stalin used it as weapon against democracies [Jacob Mchangama, Hoover, a while back] More on history of speechcrime: antebellum North (not just South) repressed abolitionist opinion, and how the great Macaulay erred on blasphemy law under the Raj [Sam Schulman, Weekly Standard, also a while back]
  • “Campaign Finance Laws Don’t Clean Up Politics, But Do Erode Our Freedom” [George Leef, Forbes]
  • In case against personal injury lawyer/legal blogger Eric Turkewitz, court rules that critical commentary about medical examiner is protected opinion [Turkewitz, Daniel Fisher/Forbes, Tim Cushing/TechDirt]
  • “It is unusual for Swedish courts to hand out prison terms for art works.” [The Guardian on Dan Park case]
  • Australian man arrested after loitering around campaigners of incumbent political party wearing “I’m with stupid” T-shirt [Guardian]

“In the name of equality and fraternity, liberty has been curtailed in France.”

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?”