Anti-blasphemy = anti-free speech

Chalk this up under “Yet another example of U.N. incompetence“:

UNITED NATIONS – Islamic countries Monday won United Nations backing for an anti-blasphemy measure Canada and other Western critics say risks being used to limit freedom of speech.

Combating Defamation of Religions passed 85-50 with 42 abstentions in a key UN General Assembly committee, and will enter into the international record after an expected rubber stamp by the plenary later in the year.

But while the draft’s sponsors say it and earlier similar measures are aimed at preventing violence against worshippers regardless of religion, religious tolerance advocates warn the resolutions are being accumulated for a more sinister goal.

‘(Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws) have been used to intimidate business partners, suppress any reformist ideas, jail people who discuss women’s rights,’ say critics.

“It provides international cover for domestic anti-blasphemy laws, and there are a number of people who are in prison today because they have been accused of committing blasphemy,” said Bennett Graham, international program director with the Becket Fund, a think tank aimed at promoting religious liberty.

“Those arrests are made legitimate by the UN body’s (effective) stamp of approval.”

And, of course, it’s not enough for this to be a non-binding resolution. Oh, no. Religious people want it eventually to be made binding:

While the current resolution is non-binding, Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan reminded the UN’s Human Rights Council this year that the OIC ultimately seeks a “new instrument or convention” on the issue. Such a measure would impose its terms on signatory states.

“Each time the resolution comes up, we get a measure of where the world is on this issue, and we see that the campaign has been ramped up,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch.

While this year’s draft is less Islam-centric that resolutions of earlier years, analysts note it is more emphatic in linking religion defamation and incitement to violence.

That “risks limiting a broad range of peaceful speech and expression,” Neuer argues.

Exactly. Because it’s never enough for certain types of religious people believe what they believe. All too often they either have to impose what they believe upon everyone else, or, failing that, suppress any criticism of their religious beliefs, even if they have to trample free speech to do it. Worse, this sort of resolution and these sorts of laws elevate group rights above individual rights:

But supporters of the Western position say the resolution and its predecessors contribute to increasing discrimination based on religion.

“From the human rights side of things, this is the opposite of what is supposed to be happening,” said Becket’s Graham. “Instead of protecting an individual, this resolution protects an idea, and relies on hurt feelings as a source of judgment. It can only lead to a jurisprudence of hurt feelings.”

Canada says governments have abused laws against defamation or contempt of religions to “prosecute and imprison journalists, bloggers, academics students and peaceful political dissidents.”

The Iranian parliament, for example, is currently weighing a draft amendment to its penal code that would impose capital punishment for apostasy.

In other words, it creates a right not to be offended and elevates it above the right to freedom of speech. The spread and ascendence of such a “right” is anathema to the most important right of free people: freedom of speech. Once again, I find myself pointing out that no idea, religious or otherwise, should be above criticism. Period. And no one–I repeat, no one–has the “right” not to be offended.

I wish I could say this were the worst of it, but there are nations that wish to take this ridiculous concept of a right not to be offended and generalizing it beyond religion. Just look at what the Dutch cabinet just did:

THE HAGUE – The Dutch cabinet gave the nod Friday to a bid to scrap a legal ban on blasphemy, opting to expand hate speech beyond religious boundaries to include all groups of people.

“The cabinet gives the prohibition of blasphemy a new form and place in the law,” said a statement from the justice ministry.

“In future, it will be punishable to give serious offence to any group of people. There is no need any more for a separate provision for blasphemy.”

The statement said there was no difference between insults aimed against people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation or handicap.

I guess that’s one “solution” to the problem inherent in religious defamation laws of elevating religious group identities and beliefs over others: Let every other group have the same status. Yeah, that’ll work. I wonder what will happen under such a law when two groups with diametrically opposed, deeply held beliefs start saying nasty things about each other as a group. Is it more or less “wrong” under such a law for homosexuals to insult religious homophobes or the religious homophobes to insult homosexuals? Get out your popcorn.

In the meantime, the willing destruction of freedom by nations and people who should know better appears to continue apace. The scope of these proposed measures by the U.N. and Denmark go far, far beyond reasonable restrictions on speech than could serve any purpose compelling enough to justify the dimunition of the right to free speech that they would cause.