Liberty and blasphemy

Over at Daylight Atheism, Ebonmuse has a piece on freedom of speech as it relates to blasphemy, a topic of some current import. Here are a couple of key excerpts:

It happened at the U.N., where a bloc of Islamic nations successfully pushed through a resolution demanding “respect” for shariah law, with the shocking result that things like child marriage or the stoning of women can no longer be discussed by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

And:

If free speech is circumscribed by the “right” of religious groups to be protected from offense, then it is an empty and meaningless freedom. Any religious sect can stifle any speech, just by taking offense at what is said. We as a species can never make moral progress if those laws shelter evil superstitions from the light of scrutiny and let them fester in the shadows.

I agree. Restricting freedom of speech because it offends someone – for whatever reason – is unjustifiable.*

To demonstrate this in the most obvious way possible, let me list some of the things that offend my ethical sensibilities as a humanist**:

  1. Suggesting that eternal torture is a fair return for the honest expression of empirically-justified doubt.
  2. Denying the best answers that unbiased scientific inquiry can give us about our place in the universe, in order to promote the unevidenced guesses of misogynistic iron-age patriarchs.
  3. Suggesting that non-belief in supernatural (un-natural) entities is correlated with unethical behaviour.
  4. Implying (through discriminatory laws) that it is more important for my marriage that my spouse and I have certain bits between our legs than that we commit to each other in love.
  5. And of course, I am deeply offended by the suggestion that it is better to stifle free speech than to let religions be confronted with dissenting ideas.

So, by the logic of the people pushing the anti-blasphemy laws, if blasphemy against the religion of another is illegal, it should also be illegal to (1) promote the common religious idea of eternal damnation for nonbelievers, (2) promote ID as a valid scientific competitor to evolution as an explanation for the development of life, (3) cite scriptures (there are many) denouncing nonbelievers as corrupt, (4) exclude same-sex couples from marriage, and (5) promote, pass, or enforce anti-blasphemy laws.

Now, of course, I don’t claim the right to not be offended. So if anyone out there thinks there is any validity to having laws specifically prohibiting blasphemous speech, you can come right on over here and …

… engage in a reasoned and open discussion of the issue, trying to persuade one another of the validity of our positions in a mutual desire to find the best solution. That is how civilized people respond when they are offended.


* Before anyone calls me out for being inconsistent, let me say that my support for Caroline Petrie’s suspension was not based on my being offended, but on her misuse of a position of power.

** And let me be clear: in this context, humanist sensibilities must be given equal weight to religious sensibilities, or we are left with intolerable religious discrimination.

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