Ronald L. Trowbridge Answers Our Readers’ Letters

Work and freedom of speech in the Italian constitution

Dear Mr. Trowbridge,

I would be honored to ask your opinion about Article 1 of the Italian constitution. Do you think that, nowadays, it still has a foundation and that the word “work” — as intended more than 70 years ago — is still relevant today, given that work is deeply changing with the growing automation and the digitalization processes?

Thank you so much,

Rosa Maria,
Rome, Italy

When Article 1 says that the constitution is “founded on labour,” the spirit of that is on the labor of people, not on machinery replacing people. But such a change can sometimes come to be “creative destruction.” For example, the invention of the automobile destroyed the horse and buggy industry, but created a whole new industry manufacturing cars. It’s a matter of displacement and replacement. Unfortunately, the horse and buggy industry was still put out of work.

Dear Mr.  Trowbridge,
In your recent article, dated June 30th, you stated that you could find no explicit mention concerning freedom of speech in the Italian Constitution. However, Article 21 states the following: “All people have the right to freely express their own thought(s) in word, in written form, and by all other means of dissemination. The press cannot be subjected to authorizations or censure.”
Best Regards,
James Lyman
Providence, RI, USA

The issue you raise about free speech is a fascinating topic to me, one that I have published about 20 articles on in the past six years. The two sentences you cite are indeed in the Italian constitution. But they are vague. Does that constitution protect speech that is vulgar, sacrilegious, profane, racist, or hateful? The U.S. Constitution does. On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court passed by a vote of 7 to 2 the constitutionality of trademark speech that is vulgar. A variation of the f–k word is now permitted on trademarks.

Racist speech, including the N word, and hate speech are protected by the U.S. Constitution, though many college students don’t think so and hence protest what they arbitrarily define as “racist” or “hate” speech. Let us look at some U. S. Supreme Court precedents on free speech: The late Justice Antonin Scalia observed: “If you stop speech that hurts other peoples’ feelings, the First Amendment will become a dead letter.”

When Justice Samuel Alito was an appellate judge, he opined: “There is no ‘harassment exception’ to the First Amendment’s free speech clause.” In Matal v. Tam, “viewpoint discrimination” — against insensitive viewpoints — is unconstitutional. Justice William O. Douglas in Terminiello v. Chicago wrote the majority opinion, stating: “The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute… or even stir people to
anger. Speech is often provocative…”

My honest question to Mr. Lyman or anyone who knows for certain the answer is: Does the Italian constitution protect speech that is vulgar, sacrilegious, profane, racist, or hateful? I don’t know the answer to this because I don’t live in Italy. But I would honestly like to know, and thank anyone who might inform me.