Friday, May 15, 2009

Me and Michele Obama

Luckily my blog in in its infancy and only has four readers. Otherwise Sean Hannity might lump me in with Michele Obama when I say that for the first time, I really feel proud of where I'm from. And no, I'm not talking about her husband. Although yes, I did feel proud when he got elected.

You see, in France a cop can just walk up to you and demand your National ID Card. Hang out in any major train station in France and you are likely to see four cops standing around some terrified or indignant Arab or African guy. Here, you can't just pull out a line like "I don't need to comply with your ID check, I have committed no crime". Interestingly enough, French people try these lines all the time. Why? Because they watch American television series. 

In France, they can lock you up for denying that Holocaust. While I do feel bad for people with such a twisted concept of reality, I don't think the government needs to be blowing taxpayer dollars on locking these quacks up and affording them massive media coverage to fuel the French Extreme Right underground. Not to mention the precendent is absurd. Should they lock people up for denying the Armenian Genocide? (new law on that one too!) Should you be heavily fined for claiming that Pygmies weren't being cannibalized during the Second Congo War? Where do you draw the line? Can you legally say "John Wayne Gacy was innocent" or did he not rape and murder enough teenage boys to merit a national gag order?

For those of you who are willing to let feeble-minded Neo-Nazis compromise your principles of Free Speech, I'll toss out an example that even weak-stomached liberty lovers can handle. (I'm over hyphenating, aren't I) In March of 2007, France passed a law banning ordinary citizens from filming violent crimes. Press only folks! The stated motivation was to clamp down on "happy slapping", a practice where bullies aggress others and film it for online posting and other public forms of embarrassment. 

We can all agree that less bullying is a good thing. Unfortunately, this law prohibits police brutality videos like this, or this, or even this from being taken. How is it that French lawmakers failed to subject this broadly worded law to more intense scrutiny despite calls from civil liberty groups? They don't have the First Amendment to oblige them to consider the Free Speech implications of their legislation. That's how.

Here, you can't legally publish Mein Kampf without an eleven page preface on why Hitler was wrong. Feels a little overboard to me. I'd assume everyone who reads it is already in one kampf or the other. (rimshot please! am I over parenthesizing too?) Here, there are elastic laws to prevent the media from criticizing cops, court rulings, and politicians. Here, a newspaper or magazine must fear legal action for publishing a caricature of Mohammed.

The United States of America, on the other hand, has an extremely developed, Constitutionally based, philosophical framework that enables us to rigorously protect Free Speech. How many countries have such a large body of judicial rulings on topics like prior restraint, for example? I'm not about to do the research on that question, but I have a hunch that the US is the caketaker.

Also, we have baseball.



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