If you happen to be in the Australian state of Victoria, be sure you don’t insult the politician in charge of gambling. (Or his staff, either.) It might just cost you $12,000 under a new law set to pass.
Politicians are some of the most thin-skinned people I’ve ever known. It’s not true of all of them, but many of them believe there’s one set of rules for you, but another set for themselves. They’re free to say whatever they want about you, but heaven help you if you speak ill of them.
The latest example of this double standard comes from Victoria, where the state government is making it a crime to insult the state gambling officials. According to an Australian newspaper, a spokeswoman for the government explains the move this way:
“This provision protects officers of the gambling regulator from bullying or intimidation when exercising powers at the direction of the Minister for Gaming. The minister can look after himself, but does not believe that those working on his behalf should have to put up with harassment.”
Let’s be honest. If you believe in free speech, you believe people have the right to say what they want, even if others find it insulting. If you believe in legal limits to free speech, you don’t believe in real free speech. I want to hold people responsible for fraud or libel their words might be used for, but stopping people from simply insulting others is wrong. That isn’t what free societies do.
I believe very strongly that people need to regulate their own words. In fact, those who can’t express themselves well enough without slipping into vulgar speech have typically become rhetorically lazy or are simply following the habits of their friends. But if someone can legally stop you from insulting someone, he can just as reasonably stop you from expressing any other opinion.
Free speech has to be completely free — in the legal sense — or it’s not free speech at all.