While I respect the right of any person to believe as they wish, I also believe that the right to speak our minds freely and without fear of reprisal, intimidation or sanction is a hallmark of Western democracy. We should not surrender our rights in order to provide uncertain security in the face of violent opposition to contrary opinions. Ben Franklin wrote, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety”.

There is no reason to provide special protection to religious beliefs. The fear that religious believers will suffer “incitement, discrimination, hatred and violence against them” is nonsensical. The majority of people on the planet are religious. Religious believers hold most of the positions of power in both the East and West. They have no reason to fear the opinions of the minority. The most immediate danger to any believer in a particular god are those who believe in another god.

Criticism is not necessarily an act of hatred. Quite often criticism is an act of love. If a family member has become enslaved to drug addiction, is it an act of discrimination or hatred to criticize their addiction? If I firmly believe my country, a country I willingly served to defend, is headed in a dangerous and unconstitutional direction, should I remain mute?

Religious belief in a generic sense is predominant among humans around the globe. But there is little agreement as to the nature of the god the religious believe in. What anti-blasphemy resolutions seek to achieve will result in the inability of Baptists to speak out against the Catholic Church or reasonable people to object to the foolishness of Scientology. We will have to remain silent when Iran decides to execute those who oppose their theocracy or happen to be homosexual. Any theocratic government will be exempt from criticism by anyone for any reason.
(read the full blog post)

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Tags: Nations, United, blasphemy, criticism, freedom, of, religion, speech

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Comment by Alex McCullie on October 29, 2009 at 4:40pm
I agree wholeheartedly with the need to maintain the capacity and willingness to openingly criticise (in the academic sense) all aspects of our society, religion included.

In Australia we follow the British model of tradition and law to regulate social conduct without a bill of rights as such. This omission is often discussed here. We also have legislation in place to restrict speech that is seen as intentionally inciting hatred and violence. This is in the context of a much less religious country than the US appears to be. So we do have articles in the local newspapers criticising religious practices, especially where they affect the broader society. I am openly atheist amongst friends and work colleagues (if it comes up) and generally they don't care one way of the other. Many are ambivalent about religious beliefs in general and critical of organised religions in particular.

On the other hand Atheists and other critics of religious beliefs and practice need to be more considered criticism and not fall into the 'all religion promotes violence' simplicities. It does not cut it with a more neutral observer. We need to separate criticism of their metaphysical claims ('there a god' and so on) from the impact of their faith practices (teaching creationism as a science in government schools or prohibiting abortions on the basis of faith). I particularly attack the latter as I believe many religious practices and policies will threaten a strong secular society. Our recent debate (in Victoria - an Australian state) is on allowing religious organisations to circumvent our anti-discrimination laws to block homosexuals and unmarried mothers from employment. There has been a stream of critical comments in the press. Thank God!

Alex
Alex's Heresies - Embracing a Physical Reality

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