The IHEU policy paper, Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy, is available for download at the bottom of this page.

Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy

Executive Summary Since 1999 several resolutions entitled “Combating Defamation of Religions” have been adopted by several United Nations bodies, including the UN Commission on Human Rights, the new UN Human Rights Council and, in 2007 and 2008, by the UN General Assembly itself. The resolutions’ proponents argue they will enhance freedom of religion and prevent human rights violations, while critics have compared the resolutions to “blasphemy laws” that violate freedom of belief by criminalizing criticism of religion. The authority of the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly are necessarily constrained by their charters and international law. This report therefore examines the concept of defamation of religion to see if it is consistent with international human rights law. Many analyses of the resolutions “combating defamation of religion” have been framed in terms of “competing rights”: with the claim made that freedom of expression must be limited to protect religious rights. Without neglecting the right to freedom of expression, this report focuses on freedom of religion or belief, and examines whether this right supports restrictions on the “defamation of religions.” Within this context of freedom of religion, the report compares the new religious defamation proposals with laws against blasphemy The report reaches a number of significant conclusions:

  • The concept of “defamation of religion” and the resolutions lack validity in international law;
  • Outlawing “defamation of religions,” as conceived in these resolutions, would violate the human right to freedom of religion or belief as well as the right to freedom of expression;
  • Laws combating “defamation of religion” are analogous to laws against blasphemy, with the potential for similar human rights abuses; and
  • The concerns the resolutions seek to address would be better addressed by more uniform application of the existing UN standards for countering intolerance and discrimination.

Recommendation In light of the foregoing concerns, the International Humanist and Ethical Union recommends that Member States of the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council vote against any resolution against “defamation of religions.” Please download the full report, Speaking Freely About Religion: Religious Freedom, Defamation and Blasphemy, from the link below. For help with downloading or opening a PDF file, go to www.iheu.org/pdfhelp

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