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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.

One absurdity which, in my mind, rises above all others within the concept of defamation of religion is the contrary existence of theological exclusivity. Every religion claiming to be the "one true religion" (which is most all of them) inherently proclaims the the invalidity of all other religions. Simply put, almost every religion "defames" every other religion by calling all the others lies. Though I don't wholly buy bull, were I to stand in the street and decry the Bible as a bunch of malarkey, I'd be "defaming" the book, and essentially defaming those who follow it by denoting them malarkey-followers. But this is precisely what the Qur'an does, expressly calling out JC-Bible stories as lies; and similarly the Bible defames Hinduism and Buddhism and Jainism and Pandeism, and the New Testament defames Judaism by labeling as obstinate sinners those who don't accept the whole of its story, and regular old Christianity and Mormonism defame one another, the one by claiming its Scripture can not be added to, the other by claiming an addition to that Scripture which must be taken as true.

So, then, let us get to the bottom line. If we are to be serious about preventing the "defamation of religion," we ought to begin by banning any theology which calls into question the validity of the doctrine of any other theology. And once we were to do so, we'd be left with.... what? Buddhism, possibly, Unitarian Universalism, and some extremely liberal and open-ended variations of Pandeism or Pantheism.

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About 250 words for BrevityQuest11

    The United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 7/19 Combating defamation of religions is absurd, but not because nothing demonstrably false can ever be said about a religion or because every differing religious belief defames another. Those are absurd ideas, as well. "All Scientologists are child molesters." certainly implies something false about Scientology and if that implication is expressed it becomes: "Scientology requires child molestation." Please tell me you don't believe that cannot be proven false, to the satisfaction of a court. Lying is saying something you know to be false. If I said that rabbits are rodents, I would be lying, but most people who say it are not lying. They're just wrong. Disagreeing with someone's beliefs is not the same as calling them a liar; it is simply believing that they are wrong. Even if a zealot called another religion a lie, it still wouldn't fit the traditional definition of 'defamation.' This latter take on the phrase does come closer to exposing the real problems with the resolution, however.

    To see the truly ridiculous hypocrisy of the resolution, you must first consider who proposed the resolution and their definition of "defamation of religion." The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Proposed Resolution 7/19. The resolution has seventeen references to Islam or Muslims, and absolutely no mention, by name, of any other religion. As noted by Human Rights First, what this resolution, and the other attempts at resolutions with the "defamation of religion" language, actually did "was provide cover for abusive national blasphemy laws." The OIC members are also the authors of and adherents to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI):

ARTICLE 10:
Islam is the religion of true unspoiled nature. It is prohibited to exercise any form of pressure on man or to exploit his poverty or ignorance in order to force him to change his religion to another religion or to atheism. 
ARTICLE 12:
Every man shall have the right, within the framework of the Shari'ah, to free movement ... and if persecuted, is entitled to seek asylum in another country. The country of refuge shall be obliged to provide protection ..., unless asylum is motivated by committing an act regarded by the Shari'ah as a crime. 
ARTICLE 19:
(d) There shall be no crime or punishment except as provided for in the Shari'ah. 
ARTICLE 24:
All the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic Shari'ah. 
ARTICLE 25:
The Islamic Shari'ah is the only source of reference for the explanation or clarification of any of the articles of this Declaration.

    The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) made a list of how some of the OIC member nations deal with "defamation of religion." Here are a few:

In September 2005 in Punjab province [Pakistan], 40-year-old Christian Younis Masih made derisory comments about Mohammed, the so-called Prophet. The Christians who heard him beat him, hoping he would retract his comments. A mob of Muslims attacked him. Even his wife was physically assaulted. He was taken into custody, while Muslims rioted, demanding that Masih be charged. In May 2007 Masih was sentenced to death. He appeared in court only on a video link, such was the fear that he would be lynched. His lawyer was also threatened.

23-year-old Jagdeesh Kumar worked at a garment factory in Karachi, a port city in Sindh province. He was beaten to death while a contingent of police stood by and did nothing. It took days for a police report to be filed on the case, but arrests did not happen until weeks later. According to a Pakistani Christian journalist, when the three workers who killed Jagdesh were arrested, they were "charged not with murder but with 'failure to inform the police that blasphemy was underway.'" Qaiser wrote that Jagdeesh was the first Hindu to die as a result of Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Saudi Arabia prevents members of other faiths from openly following their religion. No Bibles or crucifixes are allowed into the country. 

On November 2, 2007 Mustapha Ibrahim, an Egyptian pharmacist, was beheaded in Riyadh. He was found guilty of witchcraft and also desecrating a Koran.

 


 

    It is important to note that Resolution 7/19 was a non-binding resolution that was never approved by the UN General Assembly. No resolution with the "defamation of religion" language has ever been approved by the UN General Assembly. Resolution 16/18 Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief was adopted by the UN General Assembly without vote, on 24 March 2011. It is a non-binding resolution, does not contain the "defamation of religion" language, mentions no religion by name, and does not create openings to infringe on free speech.

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