from the we love free speech but [unrolls growing list of exceptions] dept
French government entities continue to clamp down on speech. Following a terrorist attack on a French satirical newspaper, government leaders vowed to double down on protecting controversial speech. The govenment then fast-tracked several prosecutions under its anti-terrorism laws, which included arresting a comedian for posting some anti-semitic content. It further celebrated its embrace of free speech by arresting a man for mocking the death of three police officers.
A half-decade later, that same commitment to protecting speech no one might object to continues. The country’s government passed a terrible hate speech law that would have allowed law enforcement to decide what content was acceptable (and what was arrestable.) Fortunately for its citizens, the country’s Constitutional Court decided the law was unlawful and struck down most of it roughly a month later.
But that’s not the end of bad speech laws in France. Government officials seem to have an unlimited amount of bad ideas. Some government officials are being hit with far more than objectionable words. Assaults of French mayors continue to occur at the rate of about once a day. Mayors assaulted and unassaulted have asked the French government to do more to protect them from these literal attacks.
The government has responded. And it’s not going to make mayors any more popular or make them less likely to be physically attacked.
Any insult targeted at a French mayor will now be treated as contempt – an offence that carries a maximum penalty of community service or a €7,500 fine – France’s justice minister has announced.
“Any attack perpetuated against a mayor is an attack perpetuated against the Republic”, warned French Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti on Wednesday after a ministerial meeting to which local mayor associations were invited, according to BFMTV.
Assault is already a crime, so the government has ways to deal with those who physically attack government officials. This new wrinkle makes being mean to them a crime. The Republic as a whole will feel every insult targeting a town mayor. So will the people uttering the insults. $7,500 fines and/or 280 hours of community service await those who like to fight with their words, rather than their fists.
This may trim down the number of public insults but it’s hardly going to make the government any more popular with the governed. If French citizens are physically attacking mayors 300+ times a year, there’s something more going on that just a little bit of assholishness that’s gotten out of hand. Protecting people from violence is something any government should do. But protecting them from being insulted is something only authoritarians do.