Freedom House has two great pieces on the global movement to ban blasphemy. The writers point those calling for such laws really have no clue what freedom of speech means nor do they have an understanding of civil liberties.
First, there is Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who called for recognizing “Islamophobia as a crime against humanity” and for enacting “international legal regulations against attacks on what people deem sacred.” Yet even as he speaks dismissively of “hiding behind the excuse of freedom of expression,” Erdoğan presides over a government that is a world leader in the jailing of journalists. His administration’s campaign against critical commentators has transformed a once-lively press environment into one marked by widespread self-censorship. In such hands, an international blasphemy law would only add a veneer of religious virtue to an existing pattern of hostility toward free expression.
Then there is Hassan Nasrallah, the political and spiritual leader of Hezbollah. In a televised speech to his followers in Lebanon, Nasrallah declared: “Those who should be held accountable, punished, prosecuted, and boycotted are those who are directly responsible for this film and those who stand behind them and those who support and protect them, primarily the United States of America.” But while Nasrallah demands punishment for those who have insulted Islam, he has publicly and repeatedly pledged solidarity with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, a man responsible for the violent deaths of up to 20,000 Muslims.
The concept of “defamation of religions” conflicts with the universal right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion itself by designating certain ideas as off-limits for debate and discussion by believers and nonbelievers alike. Even though it may be deeply hurtful and offensive to have another person criticize your religious beliefs, this is not in and of itself a violation of your rights, and you are free to mount a defense with speech of your own. By contrast, restricting such speech is a violation of the right to free expression, codified in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Personally, I like what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis said:
“If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
Or as most people say it: “The cure for bad speech is more not less speech.”