Russian Officials to South Park: “Respect My Authoritah!”

One of my guilty pleasures – and the guilt is substantial – is the animated series “South Park.” I fully admit that the show is occasionally offensive and often tacky, but the laughs are worth it.

Everyone doesn’t agree. Via the indispensable Religion Clause Blog, we learn that authorities in the Basammy region of Russia want to ban the show, citing an episode called “Mr. Hanky’s Christmas Classics,” which contains some faux Christmas carols (on which I will not elaborate) that certainly might offend certain religious sensibilities (although it is hardly the most offensive bit of the South Park library). The effort apparently rests upon a 2006 law that prohibits “the abasement of national dignity” and “inciting religious and national hatred.”

I suspect, based on past history, that this will result in a new episode of the cartoon that will strive mightily to “abase the dignity” of at least these Russian prosecutors, but there are a host of problems associated with the application of foreign standards regarding “hate speech” or “defamation” originating in the United States.

One troubling development is the advent of “libel tourism,” in which plaintiffs alleging defamation seek a favorable forum (generally one in which principles protecting speech from plaintiff-friendly defamation laws are not followed), often based on a small number of sales of the allegedly defamatory material or even its dissemination over the Internet. The case of Rachel Ehrenfeld, described here, illustrates the problem.

The problem goes beyond whether such judgments can be enforced in the United States. Publishers with global interests may not be able to rely on whatever protections are offered by U.S. law.

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