For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
June 18, 2009
Essay and Cartoon Contests, Blasphemy Day, Exposure of Censorship to be Included
As stalwart defenders of free speech, the Center for Inquiry (CFI) has been troubled and dismayed by trends in recent years to limit freedom of expression, in particular speech deemed critical of religion. Various United Nations bodies, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, have adopted resolutions condemning so-called “defamation” of religion. Although these resolutions are not as of now legally binding on member states, CFI anticipates efforts will be made to have the resolutions acquire the force of international law. Moreover, these resolutions already lend credibility to efforts to suppress dissent and criticism, especially in Islamic countries.
But it is not just the Islamic world that is suppressing religious criticism. Western European countries have been debating whether measures should be adopted to prevent religiously offensive statements. In fact, Ireland seems poised to enact a new blasphemy law that would prohibit publication of material “insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.”
As this video from the Center for Inquiry illustrates, prohibiting discussion of certain subjects is absurd and violates our right to express our views.
In addition to religious institutions, many governments try to—and do—place severe restrictions on free expression. The recent suppression of protests in Iran, along with media coverage of such protests, constitutes a vivid reminder of government interference with free speech, but there are many more examples. China has announced plans to require all personal computers to have Web filters that would block access to government-disfavored sites, and even nominally democratic nations such as Russia legally prohibit insults “of a representative of authority.” Then, of course, there are the unofficial means of suppressing free speech, such as the murder of journalists and dissenters.
CFI believes we must increase public awareness of these threats to freedom of expression, discuss and develop plans to prevent curtailment of free expression, and demonstrate that people care about their rights to free expression and are eager to exercise them. As CFI President and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay observes, “Preserving the right to uncensored expression is important not only because it is indispensable for an objective examination of truth claims—it is no accident that dictatorships uniformly suppress speech—but also because it has intrinsic value. Human dignity requires the freedom to express oneself as an individual.”
To defend the right to free expression, CFI plans a campaign for the balance of 2009 that will include these elements among others:
- A cartoon contest, judged by professional cartoonists, in which the theme will be the doctrines of humanity’s many and various religions (CFI aims to be as ecumenical as possible)
- The launching of a new Web site, www.pleaseblock.us , which will be maintained and updated by CFI’s affiliate, the Council for Secular Humanism. This Web site will feature reports on recent censorship attempts and controversies as well as original material that would be suppressed under the laws of some countries. By its very nature, the site will be an invitation to oppressive governments to block its material from their citizens’ access, thus highlighting their opposition to free expression. Offending nations’ names will be listed on the “Meet the Censors” section of the site
- A contest open to all students currently enrolled in accredited colleges and universities in which students will submit essays on the value of free expression, with the winner receiving an award $2,000
- Sponsorship of International Blasphemy Day, Sept. 30, 2009, in which persons around the world will demonstrate that they believe in uninhibited expression of their views of religion
- Public discussions and writings devoted to the contemporary champions of free expression
- A petition drive urging relevant United Nations bodies not to limit speech critical of religion
- Special events with prominent guest speakers; and much more.
Details of all these initiatives will be forthcoming in the near future, and will be announced on CFI’s Web site, www.centerforinquiry.net .
The theme for CFI’s campaign is:
Ideas don’t need rights—People do. Protect Dissent.
The Center for Inquiry/Transnational, a nonprofit, educational, advocacy, and scientific-research think tank based in Amherst, New York, is also home to the Council for Secular Humanism, founded in 1980; and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP), founded in 1976. The Center for Inquiry’s research and educational projects focus on three broad areas: religion, ethics, and society; paranormal and fringe-science claims; and sound public policy. The Center’s Web site is www.centerforinquiry.net .