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Becket Fund for Religious Liberty: Defamation of Religions

June 2, 2008

An Issues Brief on the actual effect of international "defamation of religions" resolutions on inhibiting freedom of religion and freedom of expression at both the theoretical and practical levels.

Excerpt: The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty urges the High Commissioner to present a report that accurately recognizes the effect of "defamation of religions" resolutions on inhibiting freedom of religion and freedom of expression at both the theoretical and practical levels.

Measures combating "defamation of religions" are fundamentally inconsistent with the principles outlined in the United Nation's founding and legal documents, but more importantly, these measures violate the very foundations of the human rights tradition by protecting ideas rather than the individuals who hold ideas. Further, they force the state to determine which religious viewpoints may be expressed. The empowerment of the state (as opposed to protection of individuals against the state) through "defamation of religions" measures is thus unique in the human rights regime. "Defamation of religions" resolutions at the UN operate as international anti-blasphemy laws and provide international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, which in practice empower ruling majorities against weak minorities and dissenters.

Major criticisms of the "defamation of religions" resolutions include: the protection of a religion (essentially an ideology) instead of an individual; the complete conflation of race and religion; the erosion of freedom of expression as a fundamental freedom in favor of protecting the sensibilities of listeners; the narrow focus on Islam; and overbroad and unclear language, including in the use of the term "defamation." While religious intolerance and hatred against any religious group are issues that need to be addressed, the passage of "defamation of religions" resolutions at the UN actually restricts more freedoms than it protects.

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