Freedom of religion is not a freedom from criticism

Originally Posted: 27 Sep 2007 09:53 AM CDT by BQ (see blogroll)

Michael Cromartie, Chair of the US Commission on International Freedom (USCIRF), has just written to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rize urging her to advocate a strong mandate for the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The mandate is currently under consideration by the UN Human Rights Council.

USCIRF is gravely concerned that the Human Rights Council is shifting its focus from promoting freedom of religion or belief to the prevention of what is being termed as “defamation of religion”. Mr Cromartie’s letter explains:

The supporters of this concept—typically governments that prohibit religious pluralism at home—claim that their aim is to promote religious tolerance. In practice, however, this approach seeks to suppress what these governments deem, often capriciously, to be “offensive” or “unacceptable” speech about a particular, favored religion, and even to justify violent reactions to this purportedly offensive speech.

Prohibitions on defamation of religion violate the principles outlined in international human rights instruments, which guarantee the right of everyone to freedom of expression as well as to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. They also improperly seek to protect groups at the expense of the rights of the individual. The Commission is deeply concerned by the growing campaign to internationalize these prohibitions, and we strongly urge the U.S. government to take the lead in opposing such measures, including by opposing attempts to include a focus on defamation of religion in the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.

Asma Jahangir, the current religious freedom Special Rapporteur, has commented that

…the protection of the rights of religious minorities is central to the mandate on freedom of religion or belief. It should not be compromised even if other members of the community engage in intolerant acts, including defamation of other religions.

She has also pointed out that…

…international human rights law protects primarily individuals in the exercise of their freedom of religion and not religions per se.

Furthermore, the right to freedom of religion or belief…

…does not include the right to have a religion or belief that is free from criticism or ridicule.

Defamation of religions may offend people and hurt their religious feelings but it does not necessarily or at least directly result in a violation of their rights, including their right to freedom of religion. Freedom of religion primarily bestows a right to act in accordance with one’s religion but does not bestow a right for believers to have their religion itself protected from all adverse comment.

Criminalizing defamation of religion could have a seriously deleterious impact on freedom of expression, a human right that is as essential to human freedom and development as is freedom of religion or belief. In fact, without freedom of expression we cannot fully claim our right to freedom of religion or belief, since that right also includes the freedom to tell other people about our religion or belief and to try to persuade them of the truth of what we believe.


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