Free speech is on life support in America as support for our First Amendment deteriorates among the public. But, if recent news is anything to go by, we’re still far better off than some of our European peers. The very activists who should understand the importance of free expression are celebrating a disturbing case of censorship in Switzerland.
“LGBTQ groups hailed the 60-day jail sentence a court in Switzerland gave to a writer and commentator for deriding a journalist as a “fat lesbian,” among other critical remarks,” NBC News reports.
“The Lausanne court sentenced French-Swiss polemicist Alain Bonnet, who goes by Alain Soral, for the crimes of defamation, discrimination and incitement to hatred on Monday,” the report continues. “He was ordered to pay legal fees and fines totaling thousands of Swiss francs (dollars) in addition to the time behind bars.”
That’s right: A controversial Swiss commentator was sentenced to jail time for calling a journalist, Catherine Macherel, a “fat lesbian” and an “unhinged” “queer activist.” And some LGBT groups celebrated this Orwellian development.
“This court decision is an important moment for justice and rights of LGBTQI people in Switzerland,” Murial Waeger of the lesbian activist group LOS told NBC. “The conviction of Alain Soral is a strong signal that homophobic hatred cannot be tolerated in our society.”
This is insane and misguided, for too many reasons to count.
First, though, I’ll note how bizarre it is that Bonnet is facing imprisonment for “defamation” for calling Macherel a “fat lesbian.” As far as I could tell, she is, in fact, a lesbian. And, while it’s nonetheless very rude to insult someone’s weight, she isn’t particularly thin, either. Where’s the defamation, exactly?
Regardless, Bonnet’s statements were still rude. But a supposedly free, advanced society should never legally sanction—let alone imprison—people for merely saying words that hurt someone’s feelings.
That way, madness lies.
For one thing, it’s so subjective. Anything can offend or hurt someone’s feelings. A democratic society cannot have debates and conversations about the most heated subjects—from abortion to LGBT rights and beyond—without some peoples’ feelings getting hurt. Locking people up for that supposedly egregious offense strangles the democratic process and halts the open exchange of ideas that freedom relies on.
What’s more, LGBT activists, of all people, should know better than to cheer on this act of censorship. Here you have people purporting to represent minorities and advocates for their rights… cheering on the suppression of ideas most of the population disagrees with.
How well would that have worked out for gay rights activists in decades past? How well does that work out for gay rights activists in the many third-world nations today that still criminalize homosexuality?
We should never trust the government with the power to silence “bad” ideas. Government officials are not—and never can be—some neutral, objective party. They have their own ideas, preferences, interests, and biases, which often aren’t in line with the people’s. How could we ever hold our government accountable if it has the power to shut down speech it deems “hateful?”
Even from the progressive perspective, naively trusting government with this power would thwart future progress where ideas considered fringe today eventually become widespread and are seen as being on the right side of history.
Watching LGBT activists cheer on censorship is truly disturbing. Not just because they’re supporting an injustice, but because they’ve clearly forgotten the lessons that past generations of activists learned through so much blood, sweat, and tears.