Back on January 18, the young woman, who goes by “Mila,” posted a video on Instagram in which the LGBTQ teen discussed her sexuality. A Muslim commenter called her a “dirty lesbian.”
In response, Mila criticized Islam.
“I hate religion. The Koran is a religion of hate. I am not racist. You cannot be racist towards a religion. I said what I thought, you’re not going to make me regret it,” she said.
Soon, commenters were revealing Mila’s personal information, including where she went to school, putting not only her, but her fellow students, at risk. She also began getting death threats.
Her remarks caught the attention of French lawmakers and sparked a debate about criticizing religion and the nuances of the subject when it came to French law.
In the U.S., the Constitution’s First Amendment free speech protections are considered all but absolute, and a social media user posting something critical of a religion wouldn’t so much as raise an eyebrow. In Europe, however, speech is more limited, particularly when it comes to “defamatory” speech and — especially — speech that is critical of religion and the people who practice it.
French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, for example, said that the teen’s attack on Islam was “an attack on freedom of conscience.” However, French Senator Laurence Rossignol noted that there’s a distinction in French law when it comes to criticizing religion — it’s okay to criticize a religion generally, or its practices or symbols, but not the people who follow it.
The head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohammed Moussaoui, for his part, said that nothing justifies the death threats the teenager has received, regardless of how “serious” her remarks were.
The controversy has also played out across social media, with several French internet users adding the hashtag #JeSuisMila (I am Mila) in her support, while her critics used the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasMila (I am not Mila).
Mila, however, is refusing to apologize.
“I have absolutely no regrets about what I said, it was really my thought.”
For her protection, she’s being moved to a different school, according to French Education Minister Gabriel Attal, “to allow her to continue her life.” Mr. Attal would not name her new school in the interests of the young woman’s safety.