It was about nine years ago that I realized how weakly France, and much of Europe, champions the right of freedom of speech as compared to the United States. The context of that learning was a French libel trial, but I’m also aware of Europe’s hate speech laws, which I deplore.

So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that this sort of thing can happen—and is happening—in France today:

Marine Le Pen, head of France’s far-right National Front party, will face trial in October on a charge of inciting racial hatred for having compared Muslim street prayers to the occupation of France by Nazi troops during World War II, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday.

The charge, which relates to comments that Le Pen made to a group of party activists in eastern France 2010, creates an unfortunate distraction for the far-right leader as she seeks election in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in December.

“It’s an occupation of swathes of our territory, of neighborhoods in which religious law is applied,” she said at the time. “Indeed there are no tanks, no soldiers, but there is an occupation just the same, and it weighs on the inhabitants.”…

“It is scandalous that a politician should be sued for expressing their opinions,” Le Pen told Le Monde newspaper, reacting to the ruling. “I will go before the court in order to say so.”

The trial is due to take place in the middle of a hotly-contested election campaign.

It seems that it is now considered a form of secular blasphemy (not an oxymoron) to state the truth about the conflict between many of the Muslim inhabitants of the nations of Europe and the non-Muslim majorities in those nations. And it is especially chilling to time a trial such as this, with a charge that amounts to the criminalization of “mere speech,” so that it is poised to impact a major election.

[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]