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France Drafts Bill to Toughen Country’s Laws on Hate Speech

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The French government has drafted a bill that would toughen the country’s hate-speech laws and make anyone who utters a racist statement subject to one year in prison.

Justice Minister Jacques Toubon hopes to present the bill to Parliament at the start of its autumn session next month.

But he has first asked the opinion of the National Consultative Human Rights Commission, which is headed by Jean Kahn.

Kahn also serves as president of the Consistoire, the organization responsible for the religious needs of France’s 600,000- member Jewish community.

Kahn said in an interview that the commission is “in the process of reflection and study,” adding that it would present Toubon with its opinion of the bill after it meets later this week.

The drafting of the bill came after extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen openly espoused racial inequality, causing an uproar across the country and prompting calls for legal action or a ban on his anti-immigrant National Front Party.

“To say that the races are unequal is a fact, an unremarkable statement,” Le Pen said in a radio interview earlier this month.

Inciting racial hatred is a crime in France, which along with Germany and Belgium, has some of the most stringent laws against espousing racial hatred in the 15-nation European Union.

But Toubon decided to plug up loopholes and broaden the scope of existing legislation after it was found to be too vague to prosecute Le Pen, who once dismissed the Nazi gas chambers as “a mere detail in the history of World War II.”

In a related incident, Le Pen engaged this week in verbal sparring with Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Paris who was born Jewish but converted when he was a child during World War II.

Lustiger, whose mother died at Auschwitz, vigorously denounced Le Pen’s recent racist remark, saying that the theory of racial inequality “leads to horror.”

Asked by a radio interviewer about Le Pen’s professed Catholicism and desire to meet the pope, who at the time was on a four-day trip to France, Lustiger replied: “I am very pleased to hear that, especially if it means he will be able to hear the pope’s message and to convert, not only in his intentions but in his heart.”

Le Pen, who won 15 percent of the vote in the 1995 presidential elections, retorted in a blatant reference to Lustiger’s childhood past: “I don’t have to convert because when I was born, I was baptized, into a religion that I had never renounced.”

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