TRI In The News
John W. Whitehead on Post-Attack France: Limiting Speech Is A Bad Road to Travel
The head of civil liberties organization says the French government went too far when it cracked down on the free speech of people who defended the terrorist attack on a Paris newspaper office.
"The French right now are advocating a lot of things from wire tappings to super surveillance, the kind of stuff we saw in Nazi Germany," says constitutional attorney John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
Last week the French government ordered prosecutors around the country to crack down on hate speech, anti-Semitism, and the glorification of terrorism, and announced that 54 people had been arrested for those offenses since the Paris terror attacks on January 7.
The country's Justice Ministry laid out the legal basis for rounding up those who defended the Paris terrorist attacks as well as those responsible for racist or anti-Semitic words or acts.
"When you let people speak, they let steam off. They don't bottle it up," says Whitehead. "They don't go underground and commit terrorist acts."
Unless a French citizen is urging others to charge into a building with rifles, "I don't think any of that should fall under so-called hate speech and be stopped."
Whitehead and Rutherford represent clients who allege their civil liberties have been violated, often fighting governmental bodies, from schools to federal agencies, in court.
Whitehead often warns of civil liberties eroding under a "police state," and he authored the 2013 book, "A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State."
The Rutherford attorney also says people should look to history, especially to the Nazis in Germany, to understand what can happen when free speech is squelched.
"There were Jews in Nazi Germany that disagreed," he says. "They got rounded up for hate speech and put in concentration camps. So once you start on this train, it ends in a really bad place."