Free To Criticize

Continuing in a vein from the past post, here’s a reminder to all my American bloggers that they should cherish and be thankful for their freedoms. In Italy, it is a crime to mock the Pope. After warming up with some shots at Italy’s Prime Minister, comedian Sabina Guzzanti suggested in one of her bits that Pope Benedict XVI would be rewarded for meddling with Italian elementary school education by enduring demons sodomizing him in hell, “great big poofter devils, and very active ones, not passive ones.”

Prosecution for sedition and lese-majeste of this sort requires special authorization from the government and it’s not clear if that permission will be granted. Italy would be a more free country if it were denied. Prof. V. accurately points out: “I think suggesting, even humorously, that your ideological enemies ought to be sexually abused is in pretty poor taste. But it seems to me that a democracy should allow even such speech, especially when it comes to important religious and political leaders.”

To be sure, Ms. Guzzanti’s joke was crude and not particularly insightful into the issue. But political dialogue does not only occur in the intellectual parries, elevated-language ripostes, and occasionally witty feints found in the pages of Atlantic, National Review and The New Republic (or their Italian equivalents). Some of it takes place at a much more base level, and always has. And it should not be for a court to decide whether something is substantive enough to be protected policy debate and when something is a mere insult to the holders of power. Even the crude lampoons of our leaders find that they gain purchase when they touch on an element of truth. The process takes a while and it is not always pretty, but it does eventually help us make up our minds about things.

So just like Sarah Palin needs to put up with Saturday Night Live making fun of her, Pope Benedict, if he wants to be a leader of free people, must endure personal criticism from people who do not like him and his ideas. The Italian government should take its commitment to personal liberties freely and tolerate Ms. Guzzanti’s crude (and possibly homophobic) attack on the Pope.

If I praise my leaders, this says nothing about my freedom. North Koreans can praise their Dear Leader all day long if they wish. It is when I criticize my leaders, and am not subsequently punished, that the liberty my society affords is truly proven.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.