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Free Speech & Insulting Religion 20 June 2007

Posted by Todd in Commentary, Democratic Theory, Ethics, Multiculturalism, Religion.

I have often spoken here on the hammer about a fundamental principle of free speech:

You do not have a right to be sheltered from insult. In a “marketplace of ideas” or a “free public sphere” (however you want to frame it), ideas, all ideas, including insulting, infuriating, degrading ideas, may be expressed; and protection falls to the side of the expressor. Real harm is not “hurt feelings” or “insult to faith” or even “racism”. Harm is in the abridgment of substantive rights.

The recent renewal of the fatwa against Sir Salman Rushdie and the whining of people who say he insulted them is childish on its face and an extreme misapprehension of what freedom of speech and rights mean. Although someone may have ethical qualms about “hurting someone’s feelings” and that is a legitimate conversation to have; it is not nor should it ever be part of the debate about free speech. [See Oliver Kamm’s great discussion here.]

This is for the good of society. The radical free expression of ideas allows a society to continually evaluate itself, confront falsehood and dangerous ideas head-on, prevent stupid people from becoming martyrs for their squelched stupid ideas, and allows us to be constantly vigilant against becoming too comfortable in our received beliefs. Radical free speech, in fact, claims that making people uncomfortable is precisely the GOOD that comes from having free speech in the first place.

Do not allow religious or any other kind of fundamentalists reframe this foundational principle of a free and open society. Free speech must be held sacrosanct. Full stop.



1. Free Speech 101: Mormon Edition « Todd’s Hammer - 9 November 2008

[…] Here’s my post from a couple years ago on American Christianity’s basic misunderstanding of free speech, “Free Speech, and Insulting Religion.” […]

2. writenedit - 25 May 2010

The Quran protects freedom of speech in at least four instances and on five occasions prohibits any action be taken against any blasphemer other than refraining to be in such company.

Salman Rushdie did what he felt and was confident of doing it right. Freedom of Speech is good for expression and you are right it seemed childish in its face because, even banning him and his book, he is still doing what he thinks is right.

Still there is nothing that is endless, therefore freedom of speech has limitations to insulting a religion. In the chapter of the Criminal Code: “Whoever insults the religious feelings of others, publicly expressing contempt for objects of religious worship or a place assigned for public performance of religious rituals must pay a fine, have his liberty restricted or be deprived of liberty for up to 2 years”.

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