pageok
pageok
pageok
Comedian Facing Criminal Prosecution for Insulting Religious Leader at Political Rally:

The Times (London) reports:

An Italian comedienne who said that Pope Benedict XVI would go to Hell and be tormented by homosexual demons is facing a prison term of up to five years.

Addressing a Rome rally in July, Sabrina Guzzanti [said,] ... after warning everyone that within 20 years Italian teachers would be vetted and chosen by the Vatican, ... "But then, within 20 years the Pope will be where he ought to be -— in Hell, tormented by great big poofter devils, and very active ones, not passive ones." ...

She is facing prosecution for "offending the honour of the sacred and inviolable person" of Benedict XVI.

Giovanni Ferrara, the Rome prosecutor, is invoking the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, which stipulates that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President. Prosecution requires authorisation from the Ministry of Justice, for which Mr Ferrara has applied....

The July rally was called to protest against alleged interference by the Vatican and the Catholic Church in Italian affairs, from abortion to gay rights, but also to attack the Prime Minister for passing "ad personam" laws to protect his own interests and avoid prosecution on corruption allegations....

The move to prosecute her over her anti-papal remarks was praised by some on the centre Right, including Luca Volonte, a Christian Democrat, who said that "gratuitous insults must be punished".

However, many people were strongly critical. Paolo Guzzanti, Ms Guzzanti's father and a centre Right MP, said the move was "a return to the Middle Ages"....

Even certain sections of the Church are unimpressed. Father Bartolomeo Sorge, a Jesuit scholar, told La Repubblica the move to prosecute Ms Guzzanzi was incomprehensible. "We Christians put up with many insults, it is part of being a Christian, as is forgiveness. I feel sure the Pope has already forgiven those who insulted him on Piazza Navona."

The article also points to this stanza from Dante, which "condemned Boniface VIII to Hell even before his death" (Henry Boyd, translator):
"Shame of the Papal Chair! and art thou come,
Hollow and dismal from the fiery tomb,"
He cried --- "a later doom the Prophet told ---
But come, Seducer of the Spouse of God,
Who rul'd the christian world with iron rod,
Come! thine eternal revenues behold!"

I think suggesting, even humorously, that your ideological enemies ought to be sexually abused is in pretty poor taste. But it seems to me that a democracy should allow even such speech, especially when it comes to important religious and political leaders.

Even if in theory public discourse wouldn't lose much from insults such as this, I think the U.S. Supreme Court was right in saying that the line between fair criticism and "outrageous" criticism can't be reliably drawn by legal institutions. And this is especially so when the judgment of the decisionmakers can easily be colored by their ideological sympathy with or antipathy to the target of the speech. Plus, of course, allowing prosecutions such as this will also encourage censorship envy on the part of those who want to suppress alleged blasphemy against their own religion and criticism of their own religious leaders; and it will make it harder to resist calls for such further censorship.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.

Jane (mail):
I think most Americans don't realize that a lot of western countries don't have the free speech rights we have in here. I know many of my friends don't, and express surprise when I tell them of the prosecution of Briget Bardot. Not just France, there are examples from Italy, Canada and England.
9.12.2008 2:45pm
one of many:
It's not about religion, it's about politics. The problem isn't a lack of freedom to insult the Pope, it is a lack of freedom to insult the president of Italy. The Lateran Treaty was the Vatican giving up (most of) it's powers as a government to the government of Italy and the provision is just one of those in which the Pope retained some of his rights as a head-of-state and has nothing to do with his status as a head of a religion.
9.12.2008 2:47pm
Thatguy (mail):
The best part of this is going to watch the American evangelicals get stuck between joy that someone is being prosecuted for any kind of blasphemy, and their usual pointless Catholic-bashing. It'll be fun to watch their heads exploding
9.12.2008 2:51pm
Hoosier:
Let's stipulate: I don't know the law in Italy, and wasn't even sure that law was enforced that far south of the Po Valley. If this is illegal, then she should be arrested and tried, in the technical sense of "should": People should not be allowed to break the law.

All that said, I am one of the most assertive defenders of the Catholic Church on these boards. And, wow, I am glad I live in a country in which someone who insults the Pope in that way will be sanctioned only by the disapproval of decent people. Offending the honor of honorable people is nasty business. But shouldn't be an illegal business.

Jane is right, however, in that the fact that you can go to jail for doing so in Europe should come as no surprise.
9.12.2008 2:55pm
wm13:
The best part of this is going to watch the American liberals get stuck between anger that someone is being prosecuted for any kind of blasphemy against Christianity, and their usual conviction that Europe is morally superior to the United States in every respect. It'll be fun to watch their heads exploding
9.12.2008 2:59pm
Steve:
This reminds me of Judge Bork's opinion on embassy protests, which you posted about in the past, holding that our treaty obligations can somehow trump First Amendment rights of free speech and association.
9.12.2008 3:08pm
Jane (mail):

It's not about religion, it's about politics. The problem isn't a lack of freedom to insult the Pope, it is a lack of freedom to insult the president of Italy.

Its the lack of freedom to say what you think on most topics without fear of government prosecution.
9.12.2008 3:09pm
Arkady:

I think suggesting, even humorously, that your ideological enemies ought to be sexually abused is in pretty poor taste.


"What's the matter with poor taste? I like poor taste." (attributed to Mel Brooks)

Anyway, she's in damn good company, see, e.g., Aristophanes, passim.
9.12.2008 3:09pm
jccamp (mail):
Hard to imagine what passes for comedy in Italy. i googled this lady, trying to discover more about her. On one site, these 2 stories were directly underneath the article about her remarks and possible charges:

"Meanwhile, Father Antonio Rungi, from Caserta near Naples, has just announced that he is cancelling "Sister Italia 2008" which was due to start on his blog next month. The online beauty pagent contest for young nuns was cancelled due to a flood of abusive emails and he has just taken down his blog.

Also, consider that the controversy of the crucified frog continues to rage. An art museum in northern Italy said that it will continue displaying a sculpture portraying a green frog nailed to a cross that has angered Pope Benedict XVI and local officials."


They don't need the Correct Speech police in Italy. It sounds like they need some Good Taste police.

Back to the OP, I am very surprised that a Western democracy like Italy could have such laws impacting free speech. Maybe we do take too much for granted.
9.12.2008 3:26pm
Obvious (mail):
Any word yet on what Father Guido Sarducci thinks about this?
9.12.2008 3:28pm
Scote (mail):

I think suggesting, even humorously, that your ideological enemies ought to be sexually abused is in pretty poor taste. But it seems to me that a democracy should allow even such speech, especially when it comes to important religious and political leaders.


You need to put that into perspective. Many Christians believe that everyone who does not share their specific Christian sect's exact views will be sent to hell for an eternity of torture. They don't just joke about it, they actually believe and often revel in the idea that people will be "justly" tortured forever for the "crime" of having the wrong doctrine or belief.

To condemn a comedian for joking that the Pope should be punished in the afterlife should bring about the consideration of whether anyone believing that people should be punished in the afterlife should be, er, punished in the here and now. The answer, to me, is clearly "no." If you believe in a Judgment and an afterlife then any punishment in the here and now for insulting religion is ridiculous. If you can't trust god to met out punishment then you don't truly believe in Judgment.
9.12.2008 3:28pm
Malvolio:
Back to the OP, I am very surprised that a Western democracy like Italy could have such laws impacting free speech. Maybe we do take too much for granted.
Way too much. Almost every soi dissant "Western democracy" prosecutes unpopular speakers. Ask Mark Steyn, Bridget Bardot, or Oriana Fallaci.
9.12.2008 3:45pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
On the one hand, it is regrettable that Italy has a law under which such a prosecution could be instituted. On the other hand, it is worth observing that even a conviction would result in a minor penalty and that the Church itself does not take the matter very seriously. In contrast, the slightest perceived insult to Islam, the so-called religion of peace and tolerance, results in violence and death threats. As a devout atheist, I'm against both of them, but the Catholic Church is way ahead on this point.
9.12.2008 3:56pm
epeeist:
The problem (to the extent there is a problem) is with criminalizing criticism of heads of state (either Italy or, in this case, the Papal See). I don't agree with criminalizing it.

But American free-speech supporters should neither be complacent nor condescending. Consider state laws imposing/attempting to prohibit e.g. "Bush lied, they died" shirts truthfully listing names of deceased U.S. forces. That's a prohibition of political speech which I think is far more dangerous than prohibiting insults like this -- and it's happening in the U.S.

That doesn't mean I like such shirts, I actually do find them somewhat crass and distasteful, but they are political speech that should be protected.
9.12.2008 3:58pm
Michael B (mail):
"The move to prosecute her over her anti-papal remarks was praised by some on the centre Right, including Luca Volonte, a Christian Democrat, who said that "gratuitous insults must be punished"."

Wow. Half or more of the western world would be serving jail terms of one length or another. Plus, this should be positively anathema to any more sincere and knowledgeable Christian.

Also, for some historical perspective that continues to have relevance today, it was precisely the Italian "Christian Democrats" (the political party) in the immediate wake of WWII, who allowed themselves to be thoroughly and pervasively corrupted by the then burgeoning Sicilian based mafioso.
9.12.2008 4:00pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):

Any word yet on what Father Guido Sarducci thinks about this?


No, but we may well hear about it Saturday night.
9.12.2008 4:04pm
Katl L (mail):
The European Human right Court have rejected but for one exception( Haider, the austrian "nazi", who according to the court deseved it)the right to insult.
Amnesty International every year makes critics abot teh non punishment of hate crime in the USA
9.12.2008 4:07pm
zippypinhead:
Wow... fascinating legal doctrines in Italy! Professor V. should be glad this particular variant of crimespeak doesn't apply in the jurisdiction hosting VC's web server, or he'd constantly be having to post bail money to spring Sarcastro and a few others we could all name out of the slammer...
9.12.2008 4:52pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Well, they went after Oriana Falluci, so I guess it's fair all around.
Am I getting that right?
9.12.2008 5:04pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
I think everyone is overreacting. As I understand the situation this is just one low ranking official who hasn't even been given the authority to prosecute yet.

Sounds a lot like a political stunt to me...but whether it's a stunt by the right or the left in italy is beyond me.
9.12.2008 5:26pm
one of many:
But American free-speech supporters should neither be complacent nor condescending. Consider state laws imposing/attempting to prohibit e.g. "Bush lied, they died" shirts truthfully listing names of deceased U.S. forces. That's a prohibition of political speech which I think is far more dangerous than prohibiting insults like this -- and it's happening in the U.S.

Could you source this, I am unaware of any such laws. The closest I can come to is that it is in some locations illegal to wear anti-abortion messages on shirts where it will cause an uproar.


9.12.2008 5:35pm
Michael B (mail):
As the subject is religion and being rebuked for a failure to render proper respect, Obama's Sermon on the Mile High Mount is worth a quick view and read, the caricatures of Keith Olberman and Chris Matthews are as fitting as those of the savior himself.
9.12.2008 5:45pm
LM (mail):
Before putting comedians in jail for stuff like this, they should lock a lot of them up for the quality of their comedy.
9.12.2008 5:49pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Fallaci
9.12.2008 5:49pm
Steve2:
One of many, I imagine epeeist's source is Eugene Volokh.

Or at least, the Blogfather's posts were what I thought of when I saw that...
9.12.2008 6:01pm
one of many:
Ah Steve, thanks. Didn't think of the name aspect instead of the content aspect, my bad. But these were pretty easily not laws (unconstitutional laws) in the US, so I wonder why I should worry about them. Even the anti-abortion restrictions are merely time-place-manner restrictions addressed to one issue instead of an outright ban on speech based upon its content. That is not to say that the US is perfect on freedom of speech issues, but we are pretty safe on content based restrictions.
9.12.2008 6:16pm
Teedee1102 (mail):
How is this compatible with membership in the European Union? Or is there a carve-out for retrograde laws like this one?
9.12.2008 6:48pm
Canon law:
The Lateran Treaty makes an insult to the Pope punishable the same as an insult to the Italian KING, not President. Italy has no King. Does the President necessarily fill in for him here?
9.12.2008 7:26pm
Fub:
Thatguy wrote at 9.12.2008 1:51pm:
The best part of this is going to watch the American evangelicals get stuck between joy that someone is being prosecuted for any kind of blasphemy, and their usual pointless Catholic-bashing. It'll be fun to watch their heads exploding
wm13 wrote at 9.12.2008 1:59pm:
The best part of this is going to watch the American liberals get stuck between anger that someone is being prosecuted for any kind of blasphemy against Christianity, and their usual conviction that Europe is morally superior to the United States in every respect. It'll be fun to watch their heads exploding
Sounds like a twofer to me.
9.12.2008 7:37pm
one of many:
Probably yes Cannon law. It would be interesting if the papal rights being equivalent to royal rights could be used to justify preventing the Pope from setting foot in Italy (which the (ex)Royal family of Italy is prevented from doing).
9.13.2008 12:47am
marc (mail):
Yes, Canon Lawyer, the '46 referendum establishing the Italian Republic, assigns all the rights and prerogatives of the former Sovereign, mutatis mutandis, to the republican Head of State.
9.13.2008 10:34am
marc (mail):
One of many, The constitutional prohibition against the presence of male members of the House of Savoia on Italian territory is repealed, since 2001 or 2002.
9.13.2008 10:41am
randal (mail):
I think suggesting, even humorously, that your ideological enemies ought to be sexually abused is in pretty poor taste.

Perhaps she's gay, and the pope is in fact partially responsible for her oppression. That makes the pope her personal enemy. Wishing abuse upon your personal enemies, even in public, is pretty natural.
9.13.2008 4:39pm
one of many:
Thanks marc.
9.16.2008 12:04am