Freedom of Speech, Blasphemy and the Privileging of Religion

Jonathan Turley wrote this and much more for USA Today’s Opinion,

While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians. Though the resolution was passed unanimously, European and developing countries made it clear that they remain at odds on the issue of protecting religions from criticism. It is viewed as a transparent bid to appeal to the “Muslim street” and our Arab allies, with the administration seeking greater coexistence through the curtailment of objectionable speech. Though it has no direct enforcement (and is weaker than earlier versions), it is still viewed as a victory for those who sought to juxtapose and balance the rights of speech and religion.

Turley correctly concludes,

The public and private curtailment on religious criticism threatens religious and secular speakers alike. However, the fear is that, when speech becomes sacrilegious, only the religious will have true free speech. It is a danger that has become all the more real after the decision of the Obama administration to join in the effort to craft a new faith-based speech standard. It is now up to Congress and the public to be heard before the world leaves free speech with little more than a hope and a prayer.

How can there possibly be a “faith-based speech standard” that doesn’t limit freedom of speech in very dangerous ways? I worry that we are about to cross an unacceptable threshold from which it will be extremely hard to return. There is considerable hysteresis in these kinds of decisions. Getting back is much harder than going.
With secularists enjoying a larger portion of the US population than that of a few major religions, maybe we need a secular-based speech standard. For example, “No one can say, even in jest, that secularists are ‘predestined for eternal punishment‘.” It really hurts our feelings to hear these kinds of things.
Please read Turley’s whole piece and let your congressperson know what you think.
Via Pharyngula

3 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech, Blasphemy and the Privileging of Religion”

  1. I find that we humans often unconsciously reason that it requires far less mental effort to turn to an imaginary god, whether invisible or fleshly, for a deluded sense of moral guidance than to simply accept our own inherent godliness that gives us the terrible power to humbly contemplate, each and every one of us, our own sense of right and wrong. Both gods and dictators (is there a difference?) can’t stand individuality so this anarchy must be stamped out pronto before people get rebellious ideas against the State.

  2. I am doubly puzzled (though perhaps predictably).
    1. How can “negative racial and religious stereotyping” ever be right? Surely stereotyping is by its nature untrue?
    2. Why should any sensible secularist be hurt by the statement that secularists are ‘predestined for eternal punishment’, such a statement made about a group I belonged to would not trouble me, as I would believe the statement false and unfounded. Perhaps only if the secularists had a greater belief in “eternal punishment” or the authority of the speaker than I accord to either?

  3. Tim,
    As to your first point, the question is not whether something is right or wrong. The question is, should it be illegal? I don’t want to outlaw everything I think wrong. Certainly I don’t want to outlaw the free, energetic and, yes, occasional offensive, expression of ideas however repulsive I may find them.
    As to your second point, I was attempting mocking humor. It looks like I failed.

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