Friday, May 01, 2009

We made it into the Economist

with this note (in this week's issue):

Religious nonsense

SIR – I agree that freedom of speech “must include the right to ‘defame’ religions” (“The meaning of freedom”, April 4th). The UN Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution decrying religious defamation as an affront to human dignity, is controlled mostly by countries that are among the most prolific violators of civil rights, including the right to speak one’s mind.

The blasphemy document itself is remarkable in its scope and deliberate vagueness. Notorious civil-rights violators like Iran and Saudi Arabia will now be able to claim with some confidence that the UN is on their side when they clamp down on liberal-minded or secular Muslims. Western countries will also be happy to note that the council thinks the human right to free speech is not violated when they enforce their own, less draconian, blasphemy laws. The UN has firmly established itself as a body that is not even prepared to defend the basic principles enshrined in its Declaration of Human Rights.

Udo Schuklenk
Professor of philosophy
Queen’s University
Kingston, Canada


  1. Superb!

    It occurred to me that, in saying that criticising religion is a human rights breach, the Council is itself criticising those religions that criticise other religions (as many do). Does this mean that the Council itself is guilty of the very human rights violation that it invented?

  2. David ShawMay 01, 2009

    (Assuming, of course, that saying that someone is guilty of a human rights breach is to criticise them - which I guess is the point.)

  3. I was just reading The Economist and saw some familiar names; among them yours and one of my favorite economists John Lott. Your critique of the UN's consistency on matters of religious and verbal freedom was notable. Indeed, the resolution in question advocates the extension of the state's influence in prohibiting "racist and xenophobic ideas and material aimed at any religion or its followers that constitute incitement to racial and religious hatred..." I can only hope this declaration isn't used to justify the imprisonment of skeptics or humanists such as Somali expatriate Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

    In the United States, you maybe distressed to find out that a federal judge ruled that a public school teacher violated the First Amendment when he spoke critically of Christianity (,2933,518864,00.html ). I'm sympathetic with the Thomas Jefferson's wall between church and state and I'm also sympathetic to the view that the government shouldn't be in the business of suppressing expression. The political problems of public education ought to be avoided in my opinion. If you're not too versed with American jurisprudence, there's been a precedent that public school teachers cannot display religious hostility as actors of the state.

    Lest you forget- I'm that feisty libertarian from Montgomery County Community College. I'm now studying economics at Pennsylvania State University.

  4. pebird@pacbell.netMay 29, 2009

    The UN Human Rights Council now needs to pass a resolution condemning those who "defame" political parties.

    When religion needs the support of the state - it becomes an instrument of the state.


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