In the post-World War II era, French governments have adopted a policy advanced upon them nearly 100 years ago by Woodrow Wilson. He pioneered the modern idea that countries’ constitutions don’t limit governments; they unleash them. Thus, even though the French Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, French governments treat speech as a gift from the government, not as a natural right of all persons, as our Constitution does.
The French government has prohibited speech it considers to be hateful and even made it criminal. When the predecessor magazine to Charlie Hebdo once mocked the death of Charles de Gaulle, the French government shut it down — permanently.
The theory of anti-hate speech laws is that hate speech often leads to violence, and violence demands police and thus the expenditure of public resources, and so the government can make it illegal to spout hatred in order to conserve its resources. This attitude presumes, as Wilson did when he prosecuted folks for publicly singing German songs during World War I, that the government is the origin of free speech and can lawfully limit the speech it hates and fears. It also presumes that all ideas are equal, and none is worthy of hatred.
So, to those who embrace this dreadful theory, the great loss in Paris last week was not human life, which is a gift from God; it was free speech, which is a gift from the state. Hence the French government, which seems not to care about innocent life, instead of addressing these massacres as crimes against innocent people, proclaimed the massacres crimes against the freedom of speech. Would the French government have reacted similarly if the murderers had killed workers at an ammunition factory, instead of at a satirical magazine?
And how hypocritical was it of the French government to claim it defends free speech! In France, you can go to jail if you publicly express hatred for a group whose members may be defined generally by characteristics of birth, such as gender, age, race, place of origin or religion.
You can also go to jail for using speech to defy the government.