Maybe free speech in America should have restrictions

August 25, 2017 GMT

Growing up in France, I have always been told that there were prohibited words and ideas. In Europe, a continent targeted several times by absolutism, free speech has developed limits to allow everyone to live in mutual respect. Publicly supporting Nazism in France or Germany is subject to legal restrictions. Article R. 624-3 and Article R. 624-4 of the French penal code even forbid any insult or defamation toward a person or group for belonging or not belonging, in fact or in fancy, to an ethnicity, a nation, a race, a religion, a sex or a sexual orientation, or for having a handicap.

That’s why the protests and actions that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month left me astounded.

Such manifestation of hate is illegal in my country. But in America, it is protected by the First Amendment and certainly not illegal. In the past week, I have been in utter shock about President Donald Trump’s reaction to hate thriving in American streets and his refusal to firmly condemn the actions of the so-called alt-right. I am angry that a young woman lost her life in an attack that revived the bitter memory of the terror in Nice.

I have come to realize that Trump condemns absolutism when it is not part of his electoral base.

As an aspiring journalist, I believe in free speech, but certainly not when it is used as a shield for hate. Allowing a group of extremists to preach Nazism, racism and white supremacy is not only a setback for this country, but an insult to history and an offense to the victims. Those ideas are not just odious, they are glorifying torture, cruelty, inhumanity and death. Europeans are aware of the gravity of such ideas. Between Adolf Hitler, Philippe Pétain (a French leader who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II) and Benito Mussolini, one would know to take absolutism seriously.

Allowing such ideas to be praised is bluntly ignoring history’s horrible consequences and years of battling for liberty and equality, along with all the lives lost in the process.

Charlottesville reminds me of the Paris protests of Feb. 6, 1934, when far-right groups protested in front of the French Parliament against the sacking of a police prefect. The protest became a violent riot, where more than a dozen died and hundreds were injured. The events led to security reinforcement regarding protests, without censoring them. Leaders of protests are required to ask for a permit three days in advance, and the penal code allows the state to refuse granting the permit if there is a risk of riot or if the protest calls for hatred.

History has taught France and Europe why restrictions on free speech are important. America could learn from it.

Louise Colin is a junior at the Lycee Rocroy in Paris. You can contact her at louisecolin12@gmail.com.