People no longer go to jail for their opinions, and the time when Voltaire wrote that “without the approval of the King, you cannot think” seems to be over. Nevertheless, we are witnessing a creeping return of censorship, in France and elsewhere.
For forty years, French governments have tried to eradicate stupidity. The Pleven Act of 1972 condemning discriminatory remarks can be considered as the starting point of this trend. Many other laws followed. They were all written with good intentions but in reality they end up limiting the scope of freedom of speech.
The most visible effect is that many debates now end up in French courts, and a self-censorship phenomena has appeared. If all these laws were applied strictly, only a few writings or remarks would escape our justice system.
How can we tolerate that a crime of blasphemy has actually been reintroduced by law?
The legislative power has abandoned its core principles and put the judge in an impossible position of restoring a common sense. By lawfuly adding exception after exception, restriction after restriction, the judge has now become the henchman of an overcautious and inhibiting society. This is detroying the French way of debating, made of excess, spirit and hope.
Our attachment to democracy lies in our belief that the individual is rational. As such, a properly informed opinion is in a much better position than the courts to decide the difference between good and bad.
Not harming others must remain the only possible restriction to freedom of speech. This justifies laws which protect individual privacy, reputation, and condemn any incitation to violence. We make several proposals to guarantee these few limits in this report.