Thursday, 19 June 2008

Free speech and the law

It's come to my attention that France, England, and probably other countries have laws against “inciting racial hatred”. Recently, Brigitte Bardot (elderly film star and animal rights activist) was fined 15,000 euros under the French law for complaining about Muslim ways of slaughtering animals—and ranting about Muslims destroying her country while she was on the subject.

We already have laws against slander, libel, inciting violence, copyright infringement, and probably others that all limit free speech to some extent. Do we really need laws against inciting racial hatred (whatever that means) as well? I think not.

As far as I can see, “inciting racial hatred” basically means expressing any negative opinion about a particular group of people (in French law not necessarily a race).

I'm afraid that some groups really are not nice people and deserve to have negative opinions expressed about them. To take a few examples: the Nazis of the 20th century; the Mongols who invaded eastern Europe in the 13th century; the Christian crusaders and members of various Catholic inquisitions. If you have negative opinions about a particular group of people, you may or may not be right (in any case it's a subjective judgment), but I think you're entitled to your opinion and you should be entitled to express it. Of course they should have the same right to express their opinion of you.

As for the people in the 20th century (not just Nazis) who had negative opinions about Jews, I'm not in sympathy with them but I think they were entitled to that opinion and entitled to express it. What they weren't morally entitled to do was to kill Jews and steal their property, both of which were of course grossly immoral and should have been illegal.

The increasing legal restrictions on free speech seem to mean that you should consult a lawyer before expressing any opinion in public. I think this regrettable, and it suggests to me that the law has gone too far.

2 comments:

Nicolas Krebs said...

So you have deleted bardot-versus-french-law.html.

"Recently, Brigitte Bardot (elderly film star and animal rights activist) was fined 15,000 euros under the French law for complaining about Muslim ways of slaughtering animals."

No. She has been convicted for claiming that Muslims are ruling France and destroying its culture.

Jonathan said...

As I understand it, the central point of her letter was to complain about the slaughter of animals.

She then got carried away and made various incidental remarks about Muslims, which seem to me too ridiculous to be taken seriously.