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Mexico's Supreme Court narrowed that country's allowable speech yesterday, determining in a 3-2 vote that two Spanish-language slurs used to disparage homosexuals were not protected under freedom of expression laws.

The blog Blabbeando transcribed a statement released by the court.

[The Court] determined that homophobic expressions or — in other words the frequent allegations that homosexuality is not a valid option but an inferior condition — constitute discriminatory statements even if they are expressed jokingly, since they can be used to encourage, promote and justify intolerance against gays.

For this reason, the Chamber determined that the terms used in this specific case — made up of the words maricones and puñal — were offensive. These are expressions which are certainly deeply rooted in the language of Mexican society but the truth is that the practices of a majority of participants of a society cannot trump violations of basic rights. …

Therefore it was determined that the expressions maricones and puñal, just as they were used in this specific case, were not protected by the Constitution.

The specific case, as Blabbeando summarizes from an article in Milenio, concerned a publisher who attacked a rival using one slur and his employees as the other.

Mexico's articulation of free speech rights differs from America's, clearly. The Washington Post outlined the country's standard in the 2004 case of a poet arrested for disparaging the country's flag:

The Mexican constitution guarantees free speech, as long as that speech doesn't injure someone else, provoke a crime or incite public disturbances. But federal law dating to the 1930s makes it illegal for anyone to insult national symbols, particularly the flag and the national anthem. The laws are vestiges of an era when presidents with vast power controlled the press and placed little importance on individual freedoms.

(It was hoped that the trial of the poet, Serge Witz, might revise those laws; it didn't.)

Yesterday's decision clearly suggests an increase in the importance of individual freedoms. It also suggests the difficult balance required with free speech laws that aren't absolute.

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