PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
E-mail: press@centerforinquiry.net

Freedom of Expression Threatened by Ban on Religious Criticism

December 18, 2009

Center for Inquiry Vows Continued Opposition to Misguided U.N. Resolution

New York, N.Y. (December 18, 2009)— The United Nations General Assembly today handed yet another victory to Islamic states in their push to curtail freedom of expression out of “respect” for religious beliefs. This morning the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution combating the so-called “defamation of religions.”  The resolution, sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Conference, was adopted with 80 votes in favor, 61 votes in opposition, and 44 abstentions. 

The Center for Inquiry condemned the resolution, arguing that it will stifle freedom of expression.  CFI maintains that a resolution protecting religious ideas from criticism can only undermine existing human rights law, which already protects religious individuals from discrimination and from expression constituting incitement to violence.

“This resolution subverts longstanding principles of human rights law by empowering governments and clerics who seek to silence or intimidate religious dissidents, religious minorities and nonbelievers,” said Derek C. Araujo, CFI’s general counsel and United Nations representative.  “Existing international law already protects individuals from discrimination and abuse.  This resolution is both unnecessary and misguided. It can only do harm to religious liberty and freedom of expression.”

UN experts agree that the concept of “defamation of religions” is an improper legal instrument for addressing the problem of discrimination based on religion. Asma Jahangir, the United Nation’s outgoing special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, has cautioned that resolutions targeting “defamation of religions” can be used to legitimize anti-blasphemy laws that “punish members of religious minorities, dissenting believers and nontheists or atheists.”

CFI was active in campaigning and lobbying against the resolution. Araujo expressed some relief that the measure is non-binding against U.N. member states.  He noted, however, that a movement is afoot at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva to incorporate the “defamation of religions” concept in binding international treaties.  He added that the General Assembly resolution would give cover and comfort to governments that stifle freedom of expression. 

Ireland, for instance, passed a law earlier this year imposing a €25,000 fine for “blasphemy” and empowering authorities to raid publishers suspected of harboring copies of “blasphemous statements.”    Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry mandatory sentences of death or life imprisonment, and are frequently used against members of the Ahmaddiya community, a peaceful minority Muslim sect.

CFI vowed to continue to fight further attempts to stifle dissent from religious beliefs. “The General Assembly has passed similar resolutions each year since 2005,” said Araujo. “The Center for Inquiry will be there to fight this resolution in 2010, both at the General Assembly in New York and at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.” 

Media representatives may contact Derek Araujo directly at (917)-720-7950, or by e-mail at daraujo@centerforinquiry.net .

The Center for Inquiry, 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 .

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