Late last year in October, and again this February, fashion designer John Galliano shocked people when he was caught letting loose racist and anti-Semitic tirades in a Paris café.
In the United States, which has some of the most liberal free speech policies in the world, what Galliano did would likely be protected speech. However, in France, it is actually a criminal offense to make public insults based on a person’s origin, religious affiliation, race, or ethnicity. These charges carry a maximum sentence of six months in prison and a fine of up to €20,000 ($27,358).
There was a one-day trial in June, and a little less than a week ago, on September 8, a Paris court convicted Galliano under the criminal hate speech laws and found him guilty on two counts of public insults. He received no jail time and was given a suspended fine of €6,000 (about $8,200), however, he will have a criminal record. Galliano will also have to pay €16,500 ($23,200) in court fees for the three plaintiffs and five anti-racisms groups, as well as a symbolic €1 ($1.40) in damages to each of them.
Ultimately, this was a divisive decision, leaving people both shocked and satisfied. Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress said, “It is outrageous that someone who told others that they ‘ought to be dead’ and expressed support for the Holocaust gets away with less than a slap on the wrist. This sentence demonstrates that there appears to be a culture of impunity in the entertainment world.” Alternatively, The Simon Wiesenthal Center released a statement saying, “the symbolic one euro fine by a French court was the right legal punishment for John Galliano’s public anti-Semitic outbursts. Now it is up to him to make amends to the community he demeaned and to the public at large, [this can be achieved] only through his future deeds and words.”
Given Europe’s history, do you think it makes sense to prosecute hate speech as a criminal offense? Or do you think Europe should relax their speech laws and follow a more American approach?