When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attended the Paris Summit in 1989 that celebrated the Bicentenaire of the French Revolution, reporters flocked around the “Iron Lady” to get her opinion of that tumultuous event.
“I think it resulted in a lot of headless bodies and a tyrant,” Mrs. Thatcher coolly responded. Shocked, reporters asked if she could not concede, at minimum, that the French Revolution initiated the West’s proclamation of human rights. “Certainly not,” she retorted, “human rights were proclaimed in Magna Carta!”
Indeed. And Magna Carta began with recognizing the rights of the Christian church. All of that seems adjourned now in light of the French Socialist government’s new attack on freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and liberty of conscience. French President Francois Hollande is so unpopular he dared not seek a second term. But that that did not deter his discredited government from attacking pro-life websites that offer women an alternative to abortion.
The French government seems blasé about its own actions, and one report on the vote blandly claimed that the opinions France is outlawing are merely those of “right wing politicians and Catholics.” As if right-wing citizens and Catholics can have their civil rights cut off without recourse in a nation that calls itself a democracy.
So Much for Liberte
Pro-lifers are threatened with prison sentences and crippling fines. “Freedom of expression should not be confused with manipulating minds,” said Family Minister Laurence Rossignol. Goodbye, Voltaire. He said: “I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Goodbye, as well, to Eleanor Roosevelt. She famously said: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Mrs. Roosevelt gained the sobriquet of First Lady of the World for her unstinting efforts to have the new United Nations recognize that the root cause of war was the denial of fundamental human rights. Mrs. Roosevelt led the post-war crusade to recognize and adopt that far-reaching document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which looks to “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief” as the “highest aspiration of the common people.”
Where do human rights begin? Mrs. Roosevelt had an answer: “Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home (…) Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” It is not simply pro-life speech that is under attack here. It is the principle of free speech itself. In France, this principle is being subverted “close to home.”
This Trend Is Ominous
This ruling follows a previous suppression of liberty in the form of a ban on broadcasting a TV advertisement showing happy, loving, and loved children with Down Syndrome. Such a public message, reports National Right to Life News, must be banned because it is “likely to disturb women who have had recourse to a medical termination of pregnancy.”
This was not the judgment of some obscure Eurocrat, but a formal pronouncement of the French Conseil d’Etat. The ironies abound: France was the birthplace of Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the scientist who first discovered the genetic cause of Down Syndrome—and who was deeply committed to the right to life.
The Conseil d’Etat functions under the constitutional order of the Fifth French Republic. That constitution was written and adopted under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle. When asked what had inspired him to lead the Free French against the forces of Hitler’s tyranny in World War II and establish a stable and democratic government in 1959, de Gaulle unhesitatingly answered: “The love of Anne de Gaulle.”
Who was she? Anne de Gaulle was the mentally disabled daughter whom the de Gaulle household loved and nurtured for all of her 21 years. Unlike most upper-class families of the time, Charles and Yvonne de Gaulle did not send their daughter to a convent for care. Instead, they rearranged their domestic life around the special needs of this much-loved child.
What French Socialists cannot answer in their casual crushing of opinions they regard as “right wing” and “Catholic” is why anyone should respect their opinions. After all, the entire constitution under which they function was the creation of Gen. de Gaulle, famously described as right wing and Catholic.
This Is About Human Rights, Not Nationality
French-bashing is all too popular in some circles in the United States. Many of us remember the absurd campaign to rename French fries “Freedom fries.” It was as ridiculous as the World War I xenophobia that resulted in renaming sauerkraut “Liberty Cabbage.”
This is no such attack on America’s oldest ally. Far from it. Many of us appreciate what France has meant to America. We rejoice in our heritage of liberty as advocated by such French luminaries as Montesquieu and Tocqueville. James Madison is the only American president to have been made an honorary citizen of France. Madison’s wise counsel is as valid for France as it is for us: “Conscience is the most sacred of all property.”
We can also agree with Benjamin Franklin’s tribute: “Every free man has two countries—his own and France.” That’s why the loss of France from the ranks of free countries should concern us all.