A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Balls, Bigfoot, and Blasphemy

By José I. Ortiz

Verbally castrating your adversary could have legal consequences in Italy.

Earlier this year, two lawyers referred to only as Alberto and Vittorio in the Digital Journal got into a courtroom brawl in southern Italy. After Alberto yelled out something to the effect of Vittorio having “no balls,” Vittorio responded the way any red-blooded, Italian man would…

Uh – nope. He sued.

Even better: he won.

The judge who heard the case held that the insult was “injurious” because it implied that Vittorio’s manhood was worthless. The situation was even graver than it might have been, said the judge, because the insult was hurled while Vittorio was at work, potentially injuring his professional reputation. Alberto faces a not inconsequential fine for his crime.

Clearly, it’s important in Italy not to call into question another man’s virility because Italian society places a premium on manliness. We wondered what societal values could be gleaned from other laws throughout the world.  A quick hop around the world with LASIS

Lese majesty, old French for an affront to dignity, when aimed at one’s sovereign ruler, can be considered akin to treason. Sound outdated? Two cartoonists in Spain know just how current the concept is today. In 2007, the doodling duo published a cartoon of Spain’s crowned prince and his new bride having sex with a caption that (translated) read: “…this is the closest thing I’ve done to work in my whole life.” Though I got a laugh out of it, the judge who heard their criminal case thought it was “vulgar” and “unnecessary” fining them each €3,000. They got off easy.  They were facing up to two years in prison.

Think outlawing blasphemy died with the witches in Salem? Think again. And we’re not just talking about countries that operate under a Sharia system. In Brazil, for example, it’s illegal to anger the gods. The Brazilian Penal Code prohibits mocking religious worship of any kind or worshippers themselves. Even more surprising to me, the Canadian Penal Code criminalizes “blasphemous libel” — though this law has not been enforced since 1935.

Speaking of Canada…in 2007 a member of that country’s Parliament proposed a law that would have put Sasquatch (better known as Bigfoot) on the protected wildlife list. (The law didn’t make it).  Before enjoying another reason for poking fun at our northern neighbors, consider this: Right here in the USA, Whatcom County, Washington’s local government approved a resolution providing a “Sasquatch Protection and Refuge Area” for the mythical creature.

We all know that Germans make cars, and lots of them. They also like to drive fast on the world-famous Autobahn. While it is a misconception that the Autobahn has no legal speed limit, it is, in fact, illegal to run out of gas while traveling on it — because Germans clearly don’t want to have to slow down behind a gas-challenged vehicle.

On a more serious note: In 2007,the European Union banned its citizens from denying that manmade atrocities such as the Holocaust ever happened. A number of countries, including Germany, already had laws on the books to this effect, but getting 27 countries to come together on the issue was a much more difficult task. Italy, for example, had previously opposed the law on the basis of free speech. After much compromise on its details, the law passed. But each country has the option of enforcing the law, which shows how much of Europe is still grappling with its relatively recent history of genocide.

Whether it’s insulting someone’s manhood, or his ruler, or his god, if these verbal put-downs are made illegal, it tells you a lot about that society’s culture. And just as our country still has trouble coming to terms with its history of slavery and racial discrimination, it may take some years for European countries to be able to fully face their egregious crimes against humanity in, and since, World War II.

Some advice, in any case. Remember to fill up your tank before tooling down the Autobahn in Germany.  And if you happen to visit Whatcom County, Washington, don’t even think of messing with Sasquatch.

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One Response

  1. Sabrina says:

    Good article. I’ve been on the Autobahn. It’s true: they drive so fast it’s crazy. But they drive well. Not like in Rome. LOL.

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