Leading article: Oh mother!

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God bless America. You have to admire a country in which mother-in-law jokes are protected under the constitution. A New Jersey court has thrown out a case brought against a stand-up comedian, Sunda Croonquist, by her husband's mother, who claimed Croonquist was holding her up to public ridicule. The judge has ruled that Croonquist's gags come into the category of free speech.

Yet one has to wonder at the social consequences if the ruling had gone the other way. Mother-in-law jibes stretch through history from Juvenal ("Give up all hope of peace so long as your mother-in-law is alive. It is she that teaches her daughter to revel in stripping and despoiling her husband") to Les Dawson ("I can always tell when the mother-in-law's coming to stay; the mice throw themselves on the traps"). With respect to mothers-in-law, this is not a coincidence.

One has to presume that the urge to let off steam by suppressed sons and daughters-in-law would be just as strong if such jokes were proscribed. And what then? Christmas holidays would be still more dangerous occasions. The New Jersey court has taken a stand for free speech. But think also of how many lives it has saved in the process.

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