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

Secularist Center for Inquiry Delivers Statement to UN Opposing “Defamation of Religions” Resolution

November 04, 2009

New York, NY (November 4, 2009)— The Center for Inquiry (CFI), a secularist think tank and NGO in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, has delivered a statement to the chair of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly strongly opposing the proposed "Combating the Defamation of Religions" resolution backed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The resolution is expected to be considered by the Third Committee in coming days.

The resolution has been sponsored each year by the 57-member OIC, who introduced it in 1999 as a resolution to combat the “Defamation of Islam.” The language was expanded in 2008 to include Christianity and Judaism. The effort has gained some traction with the General Assembly since 2005 when Danish newspapers published cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. But earlier this month, the UN's Human Rights Council in Geneva rejected the concept of "defamation of religions" by omitting this term from a compromise resolution on freedom of opinion and expression.  

The resolution in its current form is non-binding; rather than having the force of law, it urges member states of the UN to adopt laws prohibiting the "defamation of religion."  However, outside of the General Assembly there is a movement afoot at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that would incorporate similar measures against "defamation of religions" into international treaties, thereby granting legal force to the resolution as part of international law.

“This misguided resolution would turn human rights law on its head.  International law protects individuals, not systems of religious belief,” said Derek C. Araujo, general counsel and representative to the United Nations for the Center for Inquiry . “Existing laws and norms already protect religious people as individuals from discrimination and abuse. This resolution serves the interests of those who would violate freedom of belief by stifling religious dissent and criticism.”

Araujo says that the resolution would give cover to countries that silence, intimidate, or punish human rights activists, religious minorities, and nonbelievers. “This is a direct threat to the guarantees of freedom of speech and belief found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” added Araujo.

CFI’s statement to the UN Third Committee maintains that “it is possible to protect individual religious believers from discrimination without shielding religious belief systems from criticism, and without threatening the rights of religious dissidents, religious minorities, and nonbelievers.”

In the interest of achieving this, the Center for Inquiry statement contains the following recommendations:

  • Rather than hewing to the misguided and problematic idea of preventing “defamation of religions,” draw on the legal concept of “incitement to national, racial and religious hatred, hostility or violence,” which is grounded in existing international legal instruments.
  • Ensure that any protection of religious believers against incitement must equally protect nonbelievers, who may be the targets of hateful expression on the basis of their disbelief or dissenting belief.  
  • Stipulate that protections against incitement must not restrict proselytizing, discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse.

The Center for Inquiry had previously submitted a position paper ( “Islam and Human Rights” ) to the Ninth Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva September of 2008 critiquing efforts led by the OIC to undermine the universality of human rights.

CFI’s “Statement Opposing ‘Defamation of Religions’ Resolution in the UN General Assembly - October 2009” can be read in full at: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/unitednations/articles_and_books/statement_opposing_defamation_of_religions_resolution/

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 .

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