The fact that free speech is required before there can be freedom of religion is self-evident to me.  But, there are many other who people disagree with me.   On 2008-03-28, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a resolution “Combating Defamation of Religions”.  The resolution was not unanimous, because many people, like me, realize the difficulty with “defamation”.

The problem is that almost anything can be seen as defamation.   By simply affirming what you believe, you are insulting someone else.  For example, if you claim that only your god is the right god, or even that only your way of worshipping is correct, are you not insulting everyone who believes something else?  By claiming that only you are right, you are stating that everyone who believes anything else is wrong.  That is obviously an insult.  (Even if you make your claims in the most polite way, it is still an insult.)  To some people you are simply “defaming” their religion.

So, how can people of different religions, or more generally, belief systems, coexist?  By tolerating everyone’s right to freely express what they believe.   It follows that the only thing that shouldn’t be tolerated is intolerance.  Calls for the extermination of heretics, blasphemers and idolaters have no place in a world that is trying to live in peace.  It is especially repulsive when it comes from those who claim to be following a loving god.

Are there Jews who want to persecute their critics?  They can be reminded of the countless times they have been persecuted.  Is it possible that there are Christians who wish to return to the days of the Inquisition?  They should remember Jesus Christ and all the martyrs, who were murdered for confessing their faith.  Do Muslims exist that are eager to attack and silence those they call infidels?   Perhaps they should recall that the early Meccans fought their prophet and tried to silence him for being, in their eyes, an infidel.  The same kinds of examples exist in other religions and even for atheists.

Don’t agree with someone?  You are free to refute them.  Are they saying something that you think is false?  Prove it.  (I am, by the way, not against fair slander and libel laws.)  Of course, in the case of religion, some facts are impossible to prove.  (The phrase “it is written” doesn’t automatically endow validity.)  This doesn’t have to be a problem if the “live and let live” philosophy is adopted.  So, if you don’t agree with me, I support your right to peacefully express your mistaken point of view.  

UN Press Release