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 John Galliano was fired from the famed fashion house of Dior because of anti-Semitic remarks he made to a non-Jewish couple at a café in Paris.

john galliano

The comments were nefarious, wicked and unconscionable. They were disrespectful and showed an indifference towards the biggest genocide the world has witnessed.

 When Galliano made the comments, his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit allowed in France. And French law also makes it a crime to incite racial hatred. This law has been used to punish anti-Semitic remarks in the past. If convicted at trial, Galliano would face up to six months in prison and a hefty fine up to 31,000 Euros or $43,353 U.S. dollars.

 As a practicing attorney, fashion designer, and blogger, Galliano’s firing set the wheels of my trained legal mind in action. My brain started somersaulting, analyzing various theories of law while comparing and contrasting the laws of the United States and France.

 Would Galliano be prosecuted for the atrocious speech in the U.S.? Would the U.S. Constitution afford any protections to such blasphemous speech? Or would Galliano’s speech be considered “fighting words,” and unprotected by the First Amendment?

 Galliano’s was fired the same week when the U.S. Supreme court issued a controversial decision addressing First Amendment Freedom of Speech in the case of Snyder v. Phelps (the Westboro Baptist Church case). Picketers appeared at the funeral of a soldier who died in Iraq and carried signs that said “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “Thank God for IEDs,” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The Court once again confirmed the broad parameters of Freedom of Speech. Chief Justice Roberts explained, “Such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt. If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

 Although First Amendment protection is broad, it is not absolute. The seminal 1942 case, Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, established a restriction on Freedom of Speech called “fighting words.” Under the “fighting words” doctrine, the government can prohibit speech that is directed to a specific person and causes immediate injury (e.g., emotional harm) or tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

If the Galliano incident occurred in the U.S., he would shout out the defense of Freedom of Speech until his husky smoker’s voice acquired baritonic levels. Of course, Justice Roberts, who issued the majority opinion in the Snyder case, would be the “poster Judge” for the whimsical and eccentric designer.

 Galliano would argue he was merely voicing an opinion, albeit a despicable one, but still an opinion; it was his expression; he was exercising his fundamental right of Freedom of Speech. And, if his words were merely “upsetting” or aroused “contempt,” his speech would be protected, just as in the Snyder case.

 But his speech could be punished if it amounted to “fighting words.” Galliano would argue that he made the comments in a relaxed environment at a café in Paris while having dinner. He had twice the legal level of alcohol in his system. If you see the YouTube video the slurring of his speech and the droopiness of his eyes are evident. There was no loud swearing in the universal language of love; no shattering of champagne flutes brimming with Moet and Chandon (no pun intended LVMH); no throwing of his Dior fedora at anyone; and no slinging of Roquefort fromage at the café patrons. No breach of peace occurred or was threatened, he would say.

 On the other hand, Galliano’s speech took place in France, a country bordering Germany where the persecution and murders of millions of Jews took place. The wounds of people have not healed and never will because of the heinous nature of the crimes.

 Imagine if such comments were made at a 5th Avenue Jewish Rabbi Center in New York City—the result would be a provocation of emotions leading to plates of rugelach being thrown at Galliano, thereby leading to breach of peace. Context matters, a prosecutor would say.

 It is a topic worth vigorous and open debate. We all have our opinions, and I am by no means justifying Galliano’s comments. I am simply analyzing them within the parameters of the mighty U.S. Constitution. It is a canopy of protections for the common man. Imagine living in a country where a mere opinion could lead to a beheading. It would be stifling and crippling to any form of expression. We are fortunate to have the protections and live the under the safe harbinger of U.S. Constitution.

 What is your opinion?

  • I agree he should be allowed to express his opinion therefore no LEGAL ramifications should befall him. That being said, Dior has a reputation to uphold. Galliano is/was representative of Dior being the head designer and closely associated with the brand for decades. They were almost one and the same to MANY people. In light of this fact, the company could and most likely WOULD suffer – its reputation and financials by the impact of his expressed opinion were they to continue his employment. Think of Kate Moss with all her drug controversy – she lost modeling contracts as companies did not want those issues associated with their brands.
    Just my 2 cents – I don’t agree with what he said and it is appalling even if it is “legally protected speech.”

  • I understand what Dior house has decided but I think they are taking a little bit to far.
    What he said was unforgettable but he was beyond intoxicated.
    He needs help, not pushed away.

    He was the one who made Dior stands out. But I think they forgot about that already.
    Hopefully one day he will come back but with a stronger mind.
    Lee x

  • Interesting tension between Galliano’s talent and Dior’s image. Also an interesting fusion of fashion & law. And very intelligent comments.

  • I think, as a public figue, you ALWAYS have to be on high alert about what you say. (There were football commentators here in England, who said something about female referees and they got fired). And the Freedom of Speech Act is an interesting one. Nothing can or should justify what he said, and as a public figue, he has to accept consequences to his actions.

  • I am sorta on board with Sherin here … I could have said the same thing and had no legal action but the fact he is a public figure they have to make an example out of him … along with that Dior has a reputation to withhold. Galliano might have made the brand stand out but they cannot go down with him. [

    Is it weird that I still sympathize with him? I mean he said what he felt even if he was intoxicated!?] I read somewhere – What we say when we are drunk is something we thought of when we were sober. Anyhooo, I hope he is able to bounce back.

    ♡ from © tanvii.com

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