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Freedom from offense a human right? 5 January 2008

Posted by Todd in Commentary, Democratic Theory, Ethics, Islam, Religion, Secular Humanism.
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[Sorry for the second question-form post title in less than 30 minutes.]

Last month, the UN’s 3rd committee passed a resolution against the ‘defamation’ of religion. Not surprisingly, the resolution was written and sponsored by Organization of the Islamic Conference, and names Islam as a besieged religion. Regardless, the resolution makes the classic illiberal mistake of thinking that freedom of religion means that no one can criticize you; that if you’re offended your rights have been violated; and that you have the right to do whatever you want to without scrutiny as long as you do it in the name of religion. I’ve waxed long and hard against this issue before, so I won’t belabor the point. I will, however, point you to a great rebuttal of the UN resolution from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (an international consortium of humanist organizations):

Universality of Human Rights under Attack at the UN



1. mattblack - 6 January 2008

Ugh! I hate this stuff. Your cartoon offended me so now I get to kill you.

2. Steve Heist - 8 January 2008

Thanks for posting this – the page at the International Humanist and Ethical Union website was very good. I’ve been following this issue elsewhere (Skeptico and Greta Christina come to mind). It has been very depressing to watch Islamist voices trying to harden the wall between themselves and everyone else – and it has been tempting to *let* them, from sheer frustration. How do you engage a someone who views you as an inferior species? Cross-cultural egalitarianism is a hard-won concept, and it is sobering to be faced with such entrenched *institutional* (as opposed to fringe individual) opposition.

3. Todd - 8 January 2008

In some cases, the frustration comes from the other side as well. Maclean’s magazine in Canada (kinda like their Time Magazine) has been sued for having an article about Islam. Speech criticizing religions or religious actions are not protected in Canada, so when it comes up to the Human Rights Commission in BC and Ontario, the Islamists have a chance of winning. What is so frustrating is that their legal complaint to the Commission reads: “We are offended by this article. Give us relief!” I understand Canada’s (and some EU countries’) motivation to protect minorities and/or to promote peaceful coexistence, but they are forgetting the 30 years war and why Europeans moved to religious detente and secular public sphere in the first place; and they’re forgetting the higher theory behind the freedom of expression. Canada’s anti-hate speech laws, while good in intention, actually enable this wrong-headed and in fact anti-human rights argument to circulate and sometime triumph in liberal democracies.

4. quebecer13 - 22 September 2009

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