French Politician Fined for Anti-Homosexuality Speech:

BrusselsJournal reports:

Stating that "homosexual behaviour endangers the survival of humanity" and that "heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality" can cost you dearly in France. Exactly these opinions, expressed by the French politician Christian Vanneste last year, led to him being sentenced on Tuesday to payment of a heavy fine.

A court in Lille ... ruled that Mr Vanneste has to pay a fine of 3,000 euro plus 3,000 euro in damages to each of the three gay organisations that had taken him to court. The politician, a member of the French National Assembly for the governing UMP, also has to pay for the verdict to be published in the leftist Parisian newspaper Le Monde, the regional Lille daily La Voix du Nord, and the weekly magazine L'Express....

Tuesday's verdict is the first conviction on the basis of the French anti-homophobia bill of 30 December 2004 ....

I couldn't find any English-language reports about this in other media, so I'm relying on the BrusselsJournal piece, which is an opinion article that is critical of the verdict. I have no reason to doubt its accuracy, but if there are errors here, or some necessary clarifications or elaborations, please do let me know.

So much for free speech.

University presidents in America should love this, given the PC speech codes they try to enact all the time.
1.27.2006 2:16pm
sbw (mail) (www):
The proper punishment for stupidity is to haul it into daylight and laugh at it for what it is.

Anything else is too dangerous.
1.27.2006 2:19pm
Rebecca Oris Davidson (mail) (www):
Nothing tells you just how rusty your French is like trying to read a newspaper for the first time in months.

This is worse than I thought. The law is relatively new: it was enacted on December 30, 2004. The offending statements were made on January 26, 2005, and ten days later he said that homosexuals were "morally inferior" to heterosexuals.

I'm pretty sure the article in Le Monde says the 3,000 Euros is actually the total to be split up amongst the three organisations, and that it includes the fine. I don't know the bold phrases: 2 000 euros de dommages et intérêts et 1 000 euros au titre des frais de procédure, but they look like the first is damages, and the second is a fine. But even so, 3,000 Euros for violating a law that's less than a month old by saying mean things sounds more than a little excessive.

If anyone whose French is a little less rusty than mine wants to correct my interpretations, please do so.
1.27.2006 2:35pm
Rebecca Oris Davidson (mail) (www):
The second bold phrase could also be attorney and/or court fees.
1.27.2006 2:37pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Our country is contemplating an anti-flag burning amendment, so perhaps we should holster the righteousness for a second. The anti-flag burning proposals are a lot closer to hate-speech codes than anybody on either political pole would like to admit.

I'd also make the argument that in citing the "absurdity" of the French rule I suspect that many people (though perhaps not the ones in this thread) are subconsciously operating at an inappropriate level of conceptual abstraction - in light of the heavily contested nature of penalties for racially motivated crime or speech, i suspect many are mixing up the "absurdity" of hate-speech restrictions with what they deem to be appropriate subjects of those types of restrictions.

Hate speech is hate speech is hate speech, and whatever your position on it is, that position shouldn't turn on whether it is homophobic, xenophobic, racist, anti-semitic, or anti-american.

Also, I don't know exactly how to interpret John AnnArbor's post - it is subject to a benign interpretation. But the way it is structured, it is also subject to a reading that seemingly considers norms against homophobia as "PC." It's my instinct not to read the post that way though.
1.27.2006 2:42pm

You do recognize a distinction between "contemplating" a speech restriction and have enacted such, right?

Also if you were at all interested in accuracy and not political point scoring, you could also acknowledge that the resonance of this issue was at its height about 5-10 years ago. Even with a republican congress and president, there is no actual movement to ban flag burning.

You also write: "it is also subject to a reading that seemingly considers norms against homophobia as "PC." Uh, you think? What planet are you from that you wouldn't recognize that "norms against homophobia" are at the very core of Political Correctness (love it or hate it).
1.27.2006 2:49pm
Tony (mail):
I suspect that this French law is inspired by similar, previuosly enacted laws against anti-Semitic speech. I'd say the French have good reason to be a little jumpy on that subject, at least.
1.27.2006 3:09pm
musterion (mail):
Several question come to my mind. 1) Would the same politician be charged if he had substituted Christianity for homosexuality ? 2) What would have happened had he substituted Islam for homosexuality ?

On flag-burning. I do not support laws against flag-burning, but I would support equal enforcement. I suggest that you almost always get police protection if you burn an American flag, but you get charged for an illegal fire or some such offence if you try to burn a rainbow flag or an UN flag.
1.27.2006 3:16pm
trotsky (mail):
How could the gay-rights groups (as opposed to individual homosexuals) really suffer damages here? I imagine the speech was probably used in their fundraising letters as an example of what they're fighting. Heck, they might even owe royalties.
1.27.2006 3:17pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Cabbage Patch,

I'm not sure why I got your blood up, but I'll try to answer your questions.

Brilliant point about the "distinction." Uh, yes, I recognize the difference between "contemplating" and "enacting." I also recognize the difference between running and jogging, screaming and whispering, and writing and speaking. But I might nonetheless compare the each pair together in sentences, assuming the readers can identify the similarities and differences in each phenomenon.

Also, Hillary Clinton just went on record supporting the flag-burning law, so lets not rush to call me stupid or uninformed. So "even with a republican congress and president," the most powerful democrat in the country supports the idea. 5-10 days ago.

Something tells me you aren't interested in a particularly nuanced critique of "PC speech," but I generally classify political correctness as coming in one of two forms.

The first type of "political correctness" is the idea that you cannot use a particular type of language in describing a phenomenon. The preference for the term "African American" as opposed to black is an example that readily springs to mind. Sometimes I think adherents to this form of political correctness have a point, other times I think they're being silly.

the second strain is more virulent - it focuses not on the language used to describe a phenomenon, but instead on the phenomenon itself. in people who hew to this idea of "PC," political correctness is the cultural barrier to people just being able to come out and express that they don't like homosexuals (or another group). this type of opposition to political correctness i find revolting. a person might be constitutionally protected in her right to hate homosexuals, but it is not mere "political correctness" that leads many to deride these statements.

so, cabbage patch, the "planet i am from" is giving John AnnArbor the benefit of the doubt as to which category he fell in.

please don't chastise me for exhibiting a civility that you seem to lack.
1.27.2006 3:17pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Wow, it makes me want to say something homophobic, just to demonstrate my commitment to free speech.

I think I'll resist the temptation however.
1.27.2006 3:19pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Wow, it makes me want to say something homophobic, just to demonstrate my commitment to free speech.

I think I'll resist the temptation however.

Somewhat more seriously, don't such laws make homophobia, Islamophobia, etc. "cool"?
1.27.2006 3:19pm
This proves the point Tom Sowell made a while ago that the point of the "gay rights" movement is not so much to gain "rights" for gays as it is to deprive anyone of the right to object to homosexuality. Between this and Ake Green, who can really deny this with a straight face?
1.27.2006 3:23pm
Kovarsky (mail):
anonymous 22

The point of the gay rights movement is not to deprive people of the right to object to homosexuality. The point of the movement is to prevent those objections from manifesting themselves in rules that disadvantage them.

Despite your thunderous argument to the contrary, I do think that the ultimate focus more involves avoiding criminal punishment, getting same-sex union benefits, being allowed to adlopt children, than it involves preventing people from using the word "faggot" in a locker room.

all of this stuff is silly. tony makes the best point, which leads to a substantive question. does anybody have a background in french law and have the capability of providing a summary of what sorts of free-speech protections exist in france. i mean, is this law constitutionally questionable there? i'm just hesitant to condemn a country with a completely different cultural history for passing speech control laws that are incompatible with ours. i mean, german restrictions on anti-semitic propaganda make perfect sense to me, even if i don't ultimately agree with them.
1.27.2006 3:34pm
Alan in Brussels (mail):
Before getting indignant about Mr Vanneste being fined for deliberately making outrageous homophobic comments, please note that he has himself (ab)used his own position to get laws enacted that restrict other people's freedom of speech.
Most recently by sponsoring language in an otherwise uncontroversial law that calls for French school programs to "recognize in particular the positive role of France's presence overseas, notably in North Africa, and give due prominence to the history and sacrifices of French army fighters from these territories."

"I wanted to pay homage to all the troops from our overseas territories who fought so valiantly for France during World War II," the measure's sponsor, Christian Vanneste, said in an interview, "and to pay tribute to the one million Frenchmen and some 150,000 repatriates who had to leave Algeria in 1962."
(taken from "Law on Teaching Rosy View of Past Is Dividing France", by John W. Anderson in the Washington Post of Saturday, December 17, 2005).
As President Chirac commented subsequently: "In the Republic, there is no official history," Chirac said. "The law's job is not to write history. The writing of history is the task of historians."
Bear in mind also that nothing in the French criminal law has discriminated against homosexual behaviour since more than 200 years ago (except for a law enacted by the collaborationist Vichy government during WW2 and repealed long ago), so homophobia there is closely associated with fundamentalist religious organisations.

Regards from Europe
1.27.2006 4:23pm
Kovarsky Patch (cute, isn't it?)

I'm glad you recognize the concept of drawing distinctions between things that are different. Now, having cogitated on the issue and determined that there is indeed a distinction between this concrete case in France and a hypothetical in America why don't you take a look again at your original post where you tried to blur just that distinction with your school-marmish "so perhaps we should holster the righteousness for a second."

Perhaps we shouldn't was my point.

Are you aware of the concept of a free rider? Do you think it's possible that the only reason Hillary is willing to go on the record in favor of a flag-burning amendment is because she knows there is no way in hell that the a chance to act on such an amendment will ever actually come up? The fact that she has come out in favor is all the evidence a thinking person needs to realize that it's a dead issue.

PS, lay off of the grumpy pills why don't you...
1.27.2006 4:52pm
Kavorsky, one more thing. You write: "Cabbage Patch, ... please don't chastise me for exhibiting a civility that you seem to lack."

That's rich. And very civil.
1.27.2006 4:55pm
musterion wrote:
Several question come to my mind. 1) Would the same politician be charged if he had substituted Christianity for homosexuality ? 2) What would have happened had he substituted Islam for homosexuality ?

Even more pertinent to the state of France today, what if the politician making the anti-gay remarks was Muslim rather than Christian? Would the French government still have had the, er, banlieus to prosecute him (and possibly spark more riots)?
1.27.2006 5:17pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Cabbage Patch,

So in the end your point is that I am incorrect in pointing out that maybe there is some hypocrisy in our condemnation because wheras France enacted a law, in our country the minority that shares the impulse is "only" large enough to include the left's next candidate for the presidency. silly me.

Re: free rider. I'm guessing you're not an economist. You don't support a position if you think it's going to cost you more votes than it's going to get you. If you have a more esoteric theory about the free rider problem, feel free to explain, but please include in that explanation what the "resource" at issue is and who is giving her the "free ride." It seems to me that she has to internalize the cost of her support. My point is no more and no less than this - that 37% of the country still supports a flag burning amendment (and I'm therefore guessing more than 37% in Congress), and you can subtract one one-thousandth of a percentage point if you think Hillary isn't expressing her true preferences. It's still a substantial number of people that agree with the anti-flag burning proposition, and more notably, it probably represents the same group of people that would gleefully trot out the principle of free speech to chastise the french legislation.

And I sincerely apologize if i misinterpreted the tone of your initial post to me - "Also if you were at all interested in accuracy and not political point scoring..." I probably shouldn't have interpreted that as being antagonistic.
1.27.2006 5:32pm
I suppose my criticism would be incorrect if France had a long history of punishing people who criticize homosexuality, but of course this is not the case. France has for a very long time been a relatively free and open society, so the "cultural relativism" objection to my post falls flat.

Alan in Brussels, I don't subscribe to the theory that one's past misdeeds justify future punishment for unrelated misdeeds, so even if this politican supported speech restrictions it is utterly irrelevant. I know little of French law but I don't think it would be relevant if France never had a sodomy law or if this viewpoint is associated with religious fundamentalism. I actually take the radical view that religious fundamentalist speech should be protected.
1.27.2006 7:19pm

It appears I misspoke when I dubbed the phenomenon a "free rider" situation. It's not. However, the point stands that Hillary is able to take a pro-flag burning amendment position, and in so doing buck up her "not-a-crazy-america-hating-liberal" ratings with uncritical moderates at very little political risk to herself. It's not going to happen. Her leftist supporters don't even take it amiss as they know it's just posturing. If it ever was going to happen it would have been years ago when the issue had greater political resonance.

The only reason we're even discussing it here is that in response to EV's pointing out this speech-crushing French law, you felt the need to diminish the importance of this development with a dose of anti-American nonsense.

Oh, and the whole "Cabbage Patch" thing just shows that you're an ass.
1.27.2006 11:29pm
Wintermute (www):
I have a semantic problem with the term "homophobia."

Let's see, agoraphobia is fear of heights. Arachnophobia is fear of spiders. In fact, the Latinate word "phobia," derived from the Greek, means "fear." A phobia, (from Greek φόβος "fear"), is an abnormal, persistent fear of situations, objects, activities, or persons.

I am not afraid of homosexuals. So, like misogyny or misantrhopy, why not mis-androgyny? Or homo-antipathy? Their spin is: if you don't want to give me any, it must be because you are afraid (or prejudiced, rhetoric like that). Well, no, maybe you just don't turn me on enough, eh? Maybe you even gross me out (which I have every right to be, just as a woman can be when approached by a man). So beware these semantics. I have been bitched out and even molested (unsuccessfully) while asleep by homosexuals I was co-existing with. I don't want to hang them, just as I wouldn't want to be hung if I ever decided to go for it; but damn this brand of political correctness. And object to this "homophobia" word.
1.28.2006 1:27am
marc (www):
I believe that Paul Delien at Brussels Journal has it right. This is from La Voix du Nord:

Christian Vanneste, député UMP de Tourcoing, a été condamné, hier, par le tribunal correctionnel de Lille à 3000€ d’amende, 2000€ de dommages et intérêts à chacune des trois associations parties civiles....
1.28.2006 3:19am
marc (www):
And from the ActUp Paris site:

Christian Vanneste a été condamné pour "injures en raison de l’orientation sexuelle" à payer une amende de 3000 euros et à verser 3000 euros à chacune des trois associations qui s’étaient portées partie civile (2000 euros de dommages et intérêts et 1000 euros pour les frais d’avocats) ainsi qu’à la publication judiciaire de cette condamnation dans Le Monde, La Voix du Nord et L’Express.

So M. Vanneste may be paying the fine (une amende de 3000 euros) and, to each of the three associations party to the action, 2000 euros in damages (les dommages et intéréts, although why there is any interest involved...) and another 1000 in lawyers' costs (les frais d'avocats)--we are up to 12,000 euros--and he must also pay for the publication of the court's decision in the three newspapers.
1.28.2006 3:41am
marc (www):
Paul Belien is the BrusselsJournal writer, not Paul Delien; mea culpa.
1.28.2006 4:02am
Cornellian (mail):
Whatever happened to that woman in Italy (Falliani?) who was prosecuted for making comments critical of Muslims? Seems to me all the continental legal systems place less importance on freedom of speech than the common law countries. I don't think the law is a very good idea, but if they're restricting speech on a wide variety of grounds, there's no reason to single out this particular ground.
1.28.2006 1:29pm
marc (www):
Alan in Brussels, I don't see your point about the Vanneste 'let us recognise the "good" of colonialising' intervention--the State mandates hundreds if not thousands of items in its curricula; surely that is not the same thing as penalising speech outside of the schools system?

And even if I am missing the obvious there, I second anonymous22's "I don't subscribe to the theory that one's past misdeeds justify future punishment for unrelated misdeeds".
1.28.2006 3:46pm
marc (www):
Oriana Fallaci's trial is scheduled in Bergamo in June.
1.28.2006 4:02pm
Jeremy Nimmo (mail):
Wintermute- Well, I think spiders, cockroaches, whatever other insects are disgusting. So I crush them. Do I have arachno-antipathy?
1.28.2006 11:11pm
sbw (mail) (www):
Paraphrasing from "A Man for all Seasons": And after you cut down all the laws in England to get at the devil, where will you hide when he turns around on you?

I repeat, for those that seemed to miss the gravity of the issue, that the proper punishment is to expose them to sunshine: to point out that such bigotry is ignorant overgeneralization. Then laugh at them.

Anything else is too dangerous for the rest of us, unleashing a greater threat to open society than terrorism.
1.29.2006 9:35am
Patrick (mail):
Alan in Brussels is having a joke at your American expenses, basically.

If he actually knows anything about France, he'd be fully aware that the line he has quoted from Chirac is absolute horse****. Even French high school philosophy textbooks are biased - they (typically) present a series of excerpts of different philosophers on each subject. The order is not strictly chronological, for example the section on 'work' starts with Marx, before passing by Arendt, Weber, Kant, Smith, Kojève, Durkheim, Nietzsche, Mill and once again for emphasis: Marx. The section of incredibly brief extracts finishes with a little coda on 'beyond work as constraint?' featuring Baudrillard and Rousseau. Each section has a final 'question' document, for further analysis. In this case, 'Work less so all can work?' by some unknown socialist (Gorz).

The next section, on exchanges, finishes with a document on North American Indian collective ownership. Apparently, life has gone down on your continent since the days when winter in Vancouver was 'a perpetual party'.

The book is 'Philosophie pour Terminale' Hatier 1995.

Anyway, back on track, if there is no official history in France, then can Mr Brussels explain the odd lacunae in French history classes for most of the past 35 years? Around, I believe, the word 'harki' would be a good place to look. Another might be 'collaboration'.

Finally, I can confirm that it is a fine of 3000€ plus 3000€ to each complaining organisation, being 2000€ damages and 1000€ legal costs. the particularly offending lines were that 'homosexuality is inferior to heterosexuality' (morally speaking) and 'that homosexuality represents a threat to humanity's survival'.

Apparently, he is appealing.

Final final note, I really believe that the law is actually called 'a law for the liberty of the press'.
1.29.2006 6:50pm
Alex R:
While the issue predates this blog, I wonder if conservatives decrying this instance of PC speech restrictions were similarly outraged when many states were passing food disparagement ("veggie libel") laws...
1.30.2006 10:07am