International Humanism and “Defamation of Religion”

Roar Johnsen from Norway profiled the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). He vaunted its website with a large searchable archive of articles and papers; here is the link, so I won’t go into detail. The website also has information about the next triannual international humanist congress in Oslo, August 12-14, 2011. Its theme is “Humanism and Peace.”

Matt Cherry

The IHEU’s Matt Cherry discussed the organization’s efforts in relation to international bodies such as the UN. A key issue here is the movement to ban “defamation of religion” (including “negative projection of Islam in the media”). Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights” codifies the “right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion;” and a comment by the UN’s Human Rights Committee clarifies that this protects theistic, non-theistic, and atheist beliefs. Nevertheless, the Islamic nations over the last decade have mounted efforts to enact what amounts to a global law against blasphemy. This is a very serious matter not only because it concerns freedom of press and expression, but in Muslim countries like Pakistan, significant numbers of people have lost their lives in consequence of accusations of blasphemy. UN votes condemning “defamation of religion” thus are clear violations of UDHR Article 18.

The IHEU has been very active combating this – and many religious organizations have joined in this effort. Why would religious groups take such a stance? Because every religious belief can be deemed “blasphemy” vis-à-vis virtually every other religious belief! Global “Defamation of Religion” legislation is potentially a recipe for global religious conflict; thus a really really bad idea.


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