Perversion of Religious Tolerance

Posted By Stefan Monsaureus

In November 2008 the United Nations adopted a draft resolution calling for the adoption of laws prohibiting the “defamation of religion.” This resolution and its antecedents have been introduced by Islamic states seeking to legitimize and propagate proscriptions on blasphemy by curtailing the freedom of expression.

Lou Dobbs addresses this on CNN, with input from Christopher Hitchens:

Writing in the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Free Inquiry, Austin Dacey and Colin Koproske warn of the prospect for additional assaults on free speech in the name of religious tolerance.

In April 2009, the U.N. will host a world conference on racism. Under the guise of protecting racial minorities, this event is likely to produce additional resolutions limiting free speech where it treads on cultural or religious sensitivities. A draft declaration written in Abuja, Nigeria, in preparation for the 2009 conference calls upon states to avoid “inflexibly clinging to free speech in defiance of the sensitivities existing in a society and with absolute disregard for religious feelings.” Like many of the HRC “racism” and “religious freedom” resolutions passed in recent years, this declaration focuses primarily on “Islamophobia,” seeking to paint all critical discussion of Islam, Islamic states, or Islamic organizations as racist and potentially violent.

Attempts to enshrine a protection against defamation of religion are antithetical to essential human rights, and pervert notions of religious tolerance by squelching dissent and insulating orthodoxy from criticism. It should be blatantly obvious, too, that the mutually-exclusive truth claims of various faith traditions cannot be reconciled, leading to the ludicrous situation where the canonical statements of one religion could be deemed defamatory by another.

Still, “defamation” concerns false accusations or malicious misrepresentations (as opposed to “blasphemy,” which deals with irreverent or impious behavior or utterances toward that which is held sacred). On some level, the prospect of having the truth claims of religion subject to the rules of evidence in a court of law holds some appeal. And, if the same protections attach to atheism (or its supposedly “religious” variant, Secular Humanism), it will be interesting to speculate how this can be used to the advantage of those whose truths are routinely defamed by religious fundamentalists.

A tip of the hat to Pharyngula. This issue has previously been discussed by Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and is also covered at The Freethinker and The Perplexed Observer. For a comprehensive treatment of this issue see the Center for Inquiry’s report titled “Islam and Human Rights: Defending Universality at the United Nations,” which recommends the rejection of “defamation of religions” as a legal concept.

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1 March 2009

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