Tuesday, May 30, 2023

A French Case Shows Why The First Amendment Is A Good Thing

France has been rocked by nationwide protests for several weeks as a result of French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms. The reforms raised the retirement age in the country.

People in France have strong opinions about the issue, as you can see from the protests. But for one woman, expressing her opinion may lead to fines.

A woman in northern France is set to be put on trial because she insulted Macron on a Facebook post. The woman, who is described as in her fifties, is going to be put on trial for “insulting the president of the republic.”

From Insider Paper:

A woman in northern France is to be put on trial on charges of insulting President Emmanuel Macron after describing him as ‘filth’ in a Facebook post, a prosecutor said on Wednesday.

The woman, risks a fine of 12,000 euros but not prison if convicted at the trial due to be held in June.

She was arrested on Friday and held in custody for questioning after the state’s local administrative office filed a complaint over her Facebook post, the prosecutor in the northern town of Saint Omer, Mehdi Benbouzid, told AFP.

The complaint focused on a post on her Facebook page made on March 21, the day before Macron gave a lunchtime interview to TF1 television to defend his controversial pension reforms that have sparked nationwide protests.

This piece of filth is going to address you at 1:00 pm… it’s always on television that we see this filth,” she wrote.

The woman, in her 50s, had been a supporter of the 2018-2019 “Yellow Vest” protests that shook Macron during his first mandate.

The woman, who is only identified as Valerie, was astonished when police officers came to arrest her. After all, this woman’s only “crime” was insulting Macron. On paper, freedom of speech is guaranteed under French law. It is guaranteed as far back as the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.

But those promises of freedom of speech don’t really mean much in France. France, especially under Macron, has a history of repression against those who speak out about the wrong things. According to Amnesty International, thousands are convicted every year in France on the “crime” of “contempt of public officials.” The law is vaguely defined and is often used by the French government to simply crack down on dissent.

Despite our own government’s work to censor speech online, I’m glad to live in a country with the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech. We have freedom of speech and freedom of the press in order to insult elected officials, not talk about the weather. Simply put, this kind of prosecution could not happen in the U.S. and that is because we have a legal and cultural framework that supports freedom of speech.

The woman is set to go on trial on June 20 in the city of Saint Omer.