I originally posted this on Facebook. It has been slightly reformatted for use on E2
What is the "defamation of religion" anyway? At first this may seem, to both the religious and nonreligious, like a dumb question with an obvious answer. Of course, it's talking bad about religion, right? Defaming religion is what it is, duh.
But, let's take a closer look. It's not as easy of a question to answer as it seems at first glance.
First of all, let's look at the definition of "defame" according to m-w.com (the second of the three, not considered "archaic"):
"to harm the reputation of by libel or slander."
Now, let's look at the definitions of "libel" and then "slander" again throwing out the archaic ones.
Libel: 1. a written statement in which a plaintiff in certain courts sets forth the cause of action or the relief sought. 2. A written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression; a statement or representation published without just cause and tending to expose ANOTHER to public contempt; the defamation of a PERSON by written or representational means; the publication of blasphemous, treasonable, seditious, or obscene writings or pictures; the act, tort, or crime of publishing such a libel.
Slander: to utter slander against: DEFAME.
Well, that one wasn't much help, was it? The defame is to slander, to slander is to defame, you're just going around in circles there. But the definition for libel, that's an interesting one. For one, a defamatory statement that conveys an "unjustly unfavorable impression," in other words, writing and/or publishing something that is negative and demonstrably untrue. And everything about that definition, except for the word "blasphemous" indicates we're talking about what one can do to a PERSON, an individual. If one were to, say, call Barack Obama a child molester, in print, that could be construed as libel, because it is a very negative statement that you could demonstrate through evidence, or lack thereof, if it is true - or untrue. You could drag somebody to court over it and the person could pay a penalty if the accusation is found to be baseless. On the flip side, if somebody were to call George W. Bush an idiot, that's a matter of opinion and is difficult to demonstrate to be true or untrue so therefore that statement is protected by free speech.
Now, when it comes to religion, how does one defame religion? Let's not mind for the moment that libel, or slander - and therefore defamation - is intended to be a crime committed against a person. Is there anything that you can say about religion that can be proven to be true or not true? It's important for me to say that the following examples are not necessarily my opinions, but I think we can all agree that they'd be good attempts at defamation. Again, I have to repeat, these are ONLY examples.
"Jesus was not the son of God so that religion is false." That statement would offend an evangelical Christian, but it cannot be proven in court to be true or untrue. It's a matter of faith. "Islam was made up by Muhammad out of his fertile imagination." Boy that would really piss some people off. But, again, prove that it's true or untrue. "Jews are stupid." Well, that is, one, referring to people in a religion, not the religion itself, and, two, again that's a matter of opinion protected by free speech (and you also have the right to say anybody who says that is a moron). Let's try another. "Religion is a lie meant to scare people into behaving and to give money and power to the clergy." Whoah, sounds defamatory doesn't it? But is it? Well, no, because there is absolutely no hard evidence to prove that statement true or untrue. It's a matter of faith. Let's try one more. "All Scientologists are child molesters." Well, THAT can be construed as defamation, but that's defamation against people, not the religion. Actually that's borderline, because it's not levied against individually named people, but let's not split hairs.
The point is, is there any opinion whatsoever that one can have against a religion - the concept, not the people that follow it - that can be proven true or untrue, since at the very core of every religion is a faith, which is belief without evidence? Further, is there any evidence that can be brought into court ("Ladies and gentlemen, behold: EXHIBIT A!") to prove any defamation against a religion? The Bible? The Quran? No, I mean something that can be proven in a secular court of law, because those aren’t proofs in and of themselves, because the only “proof” that they’re true are indeed the books themselves (the Bible is true, because the Bible says it’s true!); in other words they are articles of faith and you have to have faith that they’re true.
So with all of that in mind, again let's pose the question. What is "defamation of religion?" Not so easy to answer any more, is it? How can you possibly defame a thing - not a person - and have no evidence to back it up, or evidence to condemn it? You cannot prove God is real or not, or that any religion is real or not, and everything else that cascades down from that.
This is why the United Nations resolution passed in March of 2008, Resolution 7/19 "Combating defamation of religions" is a ridiculous, absurd, and dangerous thing passed by the United Nations "Human Rights Council" meant to actually make it illegal to criticize religion. Oh yes, criticize. (In my opinion, if any religion that thinks its above criticism, that’s a good reason to criticize it right there.). Since we cannot prove what's defamatory against religion or not, theoretically, anything anybody says about any religion can be construed as defamation, since we've proven the term is meaningless anyway and entirely up to loose interpretation, and the accusation is entirely the opinion of the accuser. Just imagine if all the UN's member states started to take that seriously, actually legislate it, just think of what a chilling and destructive effect that'd have on free speech, on freedom of expression. Imagine being dragged to court just for saying something negative about Islam in a blog entry. You might win, but still, being dragged to court for that, isn't that terrifying enough? And since you cannot prove the defamation one way or the other, you're entirely at the mercy of the opinion of the judge you happen to get. What an Orwellian nightmare that would be! This should send a chill down the spine of even the devout - you might be pleased that YOUR religion has become legally bulletproof but watch out saying anything negative against any other religion! Listen, I don’t think saying mean-spirited things about religions is very nice unless you have any kind of legitimate gripe, as long as you’re not overly harsh. But it certainly shouldn’t be illegal. Anybody is liable to get emotional about things at times because we are all indeed emotional creatures. And I am all for religious freedom, as much as I am for freedom of expression, and I am completely against defaming people - and that means individual people of all religions - but how can I, or anybody else, be against defaming a religion, since we can't even say what that is? And even if you can find a truly defamatory – NOT inflammatory – statement against a religion, the other point is that only people, individuals, should be protected against defamation, not things, not concepts, not ideas, not beliefs, no matter how deeply held they are. People’s ability to have life, liberty, and pursue happiness can be damaged by defamation (not ideas, not beliefs) and prosecuting somebody for merely writing or saying an opinion on a religion would also certainly harm those abilities.
These are reasons why no sensible person should be in support of UN Resolution 7/19 and everybody should denounce it. Defamation of religion is an absurdity, an unreal concept with potentially real consequences.