17 September 2018

Defecating on deities: Willy Toledo and the right to free speech

Swearing in Spanish involves a fair amount of shit. Me cago en la leche (I shit in the milk) or me cago en el mar (I shit in the sea) are fairly mild expletives, along the lines of "Oh fuck".   Me cago en tus muertos/tu puta madre (I shit on your dead relatives/whore of a mother) are stronger, and more likely to get you into a fight.  Me cago en Dios (I shit on God) is in the first category - vulgar, certainly, but not likely to get you arrested.

But Spanish actor, theatrical director and left-wing activist Willy Toledo went too far for some people when he posted on Facebook last year: "Yo me cago en Dios. Y me sobra mierda para cagarme en el dogma de la santidad y virginidad de la Virgen María" (I shit on God, and have enough shit left over to crap on the dogma of the holiness and virginity of the Virgin Mary).



This outburst was in response to the reopening of the case against three women who in 2014 had paraded an enormous vagina around the streets of Seville in a May Day procession (1 May is international workers' day).  They called it El coño insumiso (the insubordinate pussy).  The original case against them was shelved in 2016 when the judge decided it was a political statement and not intended to offend religious sensibilities.  However the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers disagreed, and appealed against the decision.

The Insubordinate Pussy
That same association claimed Willy Toledo's Facebook post most certainly did offend religious sensibilities, contravening Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code which criminalises those who offend the feelings of members of a religious faith by "publicly disparaging their dogmas, beliefs, rites or ceremonies".  The same law applies to those of no religious faith.

Toledo twice failed to turn up at the court hearing, stating that as an atheist he has the right to express anti-religious opinions. He was subsequently arrested for ignoring a court summons.  The Religious Lawyers Association claims his actions are a publicity stunt, as his acting career has been moribund for seven years (Toledo himself believes he was blacklisted for his political beliefs).  They are also asking for him to be tried for hate crimes, after he stated publicly that priests killed by Republicans during the Civil War "probably deserved it", given that they openly supported the Francoist uprising.

Defiance in the face of authority
Last week he was escorted by police to a court in Madrid to answer the charge of obstruction of justice.  He spent the night in a cell, during which he was denied access to his lawyer, but was set free after the hearing, without bail.  He was greeted outside by a crowd of supporters shouting "Me cago en Dios", and assured them that as far as he was concerned, he hadn't committed any crime and had a right to free speech.

It is not not known at this stage whether the Courts will continue with the case against him. The Christian lawyers certainly won't give up without a fight. But he has stated that he will see it through to the end, whatever that may be, in the name of free speech.

The case has certainly brought this formerly obscure law to public attention.  Given the number of Spaniards who shit on God on a regular basis, one has to ask whether those right-wing Christian fundamentalist lawyers singled him out for some other reason ...


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