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Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Dangerous Idea of Protecting Religions from “Defamation”

The Dangerous Idea of Protecting Religions from “Defamation”

A good debate is warranted on the issue. Reference is made to the stand taken by USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) listed below.

It is our duty to keep law and order and faithfully guard the safety of every citizen. Hate is one of the many sources of disrupting peace in a society and it is our responsibility to track down the source of such hate and work on mitigating it. We have an obligation to maintain a balance in the society.

The Civil rights in America did change one's attitude towards African Americans and other Minorities, over generations the apparently restrictive laws have become a norm of civility. In India the laws pulled the untouchables out of inhumanity onto a level playing field. The realizations are not complete but significant. I was just out with the Memnosyne Foundation to visit the indigenous people of the Maya and Toltec traditions, they are not even allowed to worship in their own temples as the dominant group looks down on the very tradition they robbed their living from.

The Zoroastrians consider Alexander the great as the Alexander the Barbarian, and in the film posters of the movie Alexander, he stood in front of the farohar (Zoroastrian symbol), and I was involved in the petition to have the poster modified. It was offensive to the Zoroastrians.

There are strong laws against speaking negatively about Holocaust; it has shut out the marginal voices leaving a few who continue to be vulgar about the tragedy. Should we not have laws to give freedom to the people of Amazon basin to speak their own language?

Should we let freedom of speech reign over the anti-Semitism in Europe that led to one of the shameful tragedies of humanity; the Holocaust?

Are we right in banning the pornography?
What are the justifications for that?

If the laws were to be instituted against defamation of religions, would that lead to shutting down of hate mongers? Would it prevent people from drawing cartoons of Muhammad, printing Shiva on sandals, or mimickers of Christ? Would it decimate hurling insults on others and pave the way for civility? Would that prevent hate sermons of killing the infidels? Would it prevent hurling insults against pagans? Would it prevent using derogatory terms against idol worshipping? Would it prevent idea of harvesting the poor souls?

Should we consider restricting speech in the above instances an impediment to freedom? Or shall we consider it as protecting the freedom of the people from recieving humiliation?

Should our laws be designed to prevent exceptions or for the sustenance of generalities?

Should our laws be designed for the general good of the societies that would lead to orderly societies?

I am more inclined to support the freedom of speech, hoping civility would ultimately prevail. As Mahatma Gandhi had Quoted the Bhagvad Gita "Satyameva Jayate", Truth ultimately prevails, in this case civility ultimately prevails. However, we cannot be blind to many a laws that have been the catalyst in bringing about a positive change.

Mike Ghouse is a thinker, writer speaker and an activist of pluralism, interfaith, co-existence, peace, Islam and India. He is a frequent guest at the TV, radio and print media offering pluralistic solutions to issues of the day. His websites and Blogs are listed on http://www.mikeghouse.net/


The Dangerous Idea of Protecting Religions from “Defamation”
A Threat to Universal Human Rights Standards

In advance of the upcoming vote on this issue in the UN General Assembly, USCIRF issued the following Policy Focus explaining the problems with the idea that religions should be protected from "defamation."

Executive Summary

Over the past decade, countries from the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have been working through the United Nations system to advance the problematic idea that there should be laws against the so-called “defamation of religions.” Although touted as a solution to the very real problems of religious persecution and discrimination, the OIC-sponsored UN resolutions on this issue instead provide justification for governments to restrict religious freedom and free expression. They also provide international legitimacy for existing national laws that punish blasphemy or otherwise ban criticism of a religion, which often have resulted in gross human rights violations. These resolutions deviate sharply from universal human rights standards by seeking to protect religious institutions and interpretations, rather than individuals, and could help create a new international anti-blasphemy norm.

In addition to seeking a new norm through these resolutions, OIC countries have argued in various UN contexts that existing international standards prohibiting advocacy of hatred and incitement already outlaw “defamation of religions.” However, the provisions on which they rely—Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 4 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)—provide only limited exceptions to the fundamental freedoms of expression and religion. These provisions were intended to protect individuals from violence or discrimination, not to protect religious institutions or ideas from criticism, and they should not be expanded to cover allegedly religiously defamatory speech. Such an expansion, which unfortunately may have been lent support by new language on negative religious stereotyping and incitement in a recent UN Human Rights Council freedom of expression resolution, would undermine international human rights guarantees, including the freedom of religion. It also would undermine the institutions that protect universal human rights worldwide.

Please click here to download USCIRF Policy Focus - The Dangerous Idea of Protecting Religions from “Defamation”


USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at tcarter@uscirf.gov or (202) 523-3257.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments, and to give independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.

Visit our Web site at www.uscirf.gov

Leonard A. Leo, Chair • Michael Cromartie, Vice Chair • Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Vice Chair
Don Argue • Imam Talal Y. Eid • Felice D. Gaer • Richard D. Land
Nina Shea • Knox Thames, Acting Executive Director

800 NORTH CAPITOL STREET, NW SUITE 790 WASHINGTON, DC 20002 202-523-3240 202-523-5020 (FAX)

Please feel free to write your comments at: http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2009/11/dangerous-idea-of-protecting-religions.html#comments

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  1. Hi, Mike.
    I'm a supporter of very strong free speech laws in the United States, and continuing to allow these legal freedoms to speech of hatred. The U.S. has probably the strongest and most liberal traditions of free speech in the world, these traditions being among the bedrock national freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.
    They are unique even among Western-style democracies, and I hope that this wonderful uniqueness will continue.

    Now having said that, I might surprise some readers - and perhaps seem contradictory to some - by saying that I also support the anti-racist-speech laws that are prevalent in many European countries, including the one in which I live (Norway - though I should add that I'm a U.S. citizen). Different countries have different longtime traditions, many of which work best for their own societies, cultures, and legal structures. The unusually strong free speech laws and traditions in the U.S. do not have to be duplicated elsewhere - different traditions are fine, as long as there are strong freedoms within the specific cultural context of the land. ... Read More

    Norway, like most other western European countries, including the U.K., France, Germany, etc., and along with other Western democracies such as Canada and Australia, has laws against publicly expressed racial and religious ihatred. Racist statements, anti-Semitic statements, and anti-Muslim statements (for example) made in any public forum, written or oral, are against the law. There have indeed been some prosecutions of violators of this law in Norway.
    But here in Norway, at least, these laws work very well. Norwegians have a high degree of respect for one another, tend to be careful to not offend each other's sensibilities, and largely embrace and accept the cultural/religious/racial minorities in their midst. As a member of the very tiny Norwegian Jewish minority, these laws give me confidence and comfort that my cultural/religious differences from the national "norm" will be accepted, and will be warmly accepted.

    We don't need one-size-fits-all world standard in this department, but can allow countries to develop their own traditions of freedom consistent with their own cultural and historical contexts.

    But of course, oppressive theocracies and iron-hand dictatorships are unacceptable in a modern enlightened world.

  2. : Good morning. Thank you very much for associating me. Men was born free since time immemorial. And then entered other insitiutions. Men and religion of the infinite were in association but then emerged the institutions which we know now and we are all exporing how to filter out freedom out of that for me which he originally was his blessed ... Read Moreblessing from the Infinite. Freedom floats in dissolved state in the heart and soul of the human beings and when religious institutions and others got their shapes, aboriginal freedom got dissolved and men is deprived from that aboriginal freedom. Ancient the religion, higher is the freedom. Latest is the religion, less scope exists for freedom. But the process of restoring that aboriginal freedom to the men should be persued till all the times to come and it should and it shall be persued by the total humanity as a common existential entity. But freedom has to be rationalized, ornamented, polished, refined and perspectived in such a manner that there is a scope for evolutionary growth and development. Let everything grow. The moment I take birth eveything grows in the similar manner everyone should grow towards rationalisation and freedom and enrichment of inner values based on logics and beyond; since i am of the view that freedom for persuing material and spiritual growth is a must for all human beings. But all human beings cannot do it. Few have to be leaders, thinkers and mobilizers of the religious institutions ( where there exists for rationalized interpretations) and institutions for governannce of the society through democratic and peaceful means. All institutions must be allowed to grow in the equitable balanced growth development perspectives. And laws, judiciary, parliaments etc. must play a contructive role rather than destructive role or curbing freedom kind of roles. To continue. now this much onlyl. regards.

  3. Good questions, Mike. As with any freedom, we (each and every person) bears the responsibility of protecting that freedom. This includes speaking out when someone is out of line, when their words are hurtful or untrue, then we have a responsibility to tell that person his words are not acceptable. This includes off-color "jokes" to full-blown ... Read Moreracism to hate speech. If the person is not confronted, there is an implied consent and acceptance. If the person is confronted, this opens the way for dialogue, for getting to the root of the issue. Otherwise, it goes underground and festers, building energy, becoming even more vile.
    So, let us not limit free speech, rather, make our voice heard when someone violates the trust of humanity.

  4. LE : Agreed. But one has to see whether and what one speaks in common and publicly. When the process of dialgoues is between two at that time one has to consider and recognize the degrees of freedom and now it is upto the listener that how he rationalizes the further relationship with that sort of person who spreads hatred and so on. We must be ... Read Morevery absolutely and relative freedom committed and at the same time that the fundamental rights of of even extreme fanatics or hatred spreaders should somewhere be protected. One to one we have to think and one vs all or society one has to thnk; those paths of freedom need to be thought and law and other institutions and individuals need to ensure compliance of all that freedom. regards.

  5. Paul, I appreciate the inclusive approach you have taken, to accomodate both the restrictive laws and the freedom in each society.

    BrijMohan, I see your point of exansionism of societies and eventually reaching a bureaucratic point of no return

    Len, indeed free speech works as a general rule instead of restrictions for all for the acts if the few.

  6. Our OPINION and WILL should not be forced on others. Rather than compare and state one is better, finding a way to connect our commonality might bring about a more peaceful, cooperative, joyous world.
    Since you made this statement, I'm ... Read Morewondering if you put as much energy and study and committment into any other religion? Unless you have done so, I would question your statement. Do you even know what all the other religions in the Universe are?
    More to the point, what's this got to do with Mike's original statement?

  7. People may have freedom of speech of making defamation but without causing any inconvenience to any listener or knower of such views. Laws are required but at the same time freedom also should have upper and lower specification limits in qualitative, quantitative and performance aspects. Even sky appears to have limits. So limits of freedom should be defined by the self and by the laws for the conducive functioning, sustenance, flow and management of civility and their values.

  8. we are discussing about the freedom of speech vs. Laws to restrict expressions of defamation or derogatory comments.

    The simple way to look at it is, freedom is God given to every human and it is one's birth right. The abusers are just a few, we should not brings laws to address them, rather laws should be for the larger ... Read Morepopulation who follow the norms of civility.

    On the other issue, which I do not want to go into on this thread, Quraan says to you, your faith is dear as it is dear to the other.

    If you get a chance look up this - http://quraan-today.blogspot.com/2008/07/sura-kafirun-un-believers.html

    Quraan on Freedom: http://quraan-today.blogspot.com/2009/10/quraan-freedom-of-speech.html