A Swiss court’s decision to sentence a commentator with 60 days in prison plus thousands in Swiss francs previews the danger that criminalizing “hate speech” poses to free speech.
On Monday, the French-Swiss writer Alain Bonnet, also known as Alain Soral, was sentenced for defamation, discrimination, and incitement of hatred for his criticism of Swiss journalist Catherine Macherel. Bonnet was convicted for comments made on a Facebook video two years ago where he called Macherel a “fat lesbian.”
Fox News reported Wednesday that a lesbian activist group celebrated the decision.
“This court decision is an important moment for justice and rights of LGBTQI people in Switzerland,” said Murial Waeger, one of the directors of LOS, a lesbian activist group. “The conviction of Alain [Bonnet] is a strong signal that homophobia hatred cannot be tolerated in our society.”
Fox News reported in a follow-up story Thursday that the two-month prison sentence “alarms free speech advocates.” But while the episode might shock American audiences, Federalist Senior Editor David Harsanyi outlined in his 2021 book Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent how this kind of censorship has become routine on the other side of the Atlantic:
Free speech in Europe is contingent on the vagaries, conditions, and restrictions connected to concerns over ‘national security,’ ‘territorial disorder,’ ‘crime,’ and protections of ‘health or morals’ or the state — which are all flexible notions that empower the government to impose arbitrary limits on expression as long as the majority of the European Union approves.
Harsanyi noted that 20 EU nations have “insult laws” allowing journalists to be charged as defamatory criminals.
“In six European Union member states, defaming a public official is more severely punishable than defaming a private citizen,” Harsanyi wrote. “The opposite is true in the United States, where celebrities and political figures have a tough road in trying to shut down or intimidate their critics.”
Europe’s governing philosophy on “hate speech,” however, is on its way to America. A RealClear Opinion survey of 1,000 voters in September found nearly half of Democrats, 47 percent, say free speech should be legal “only under certain circumstances.”
Another survey from the Cato Institute in 2017 found similar results. Forty percent of the 2,300 American adults interviewed said “government should prevent people from engaging in hate speech against certain groups in public.”