The Right Steps: My Experience with International Blasphemy Rights Day
October 3, 2013
On September 30th, I had the opportunity to participate in International Blasphemy Rights Day for the first time. Our campus group for atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers at the University of Northern Iowa, UNIFI, sponsored an exhibit in one of our campus’s central meeting hubs. We set up boards with signs telling stories of people that had been affected by blasphemy laws—people that were persecuted for things they had said, did or published in regards to beliefs and religion. Also included in the exhibit were three public boards with the question “Why is freedom of expression important to you?” where anybody could write down their answer. I was very glad that I could volunteer and be a part of this cause.
As I stood there, trying to get as many people as possible to check out our exhibit, I couldn’t help but reflect and appreciate how great free expression truly is. I mean, I was able to stand there in public and proclaim that I was upset with the way governments were run without the fear of being punished. I could stand there and question religion and have discussions with people about why I think Christianity is flawed without the government throwing me in jail or fining me.
I am incredibly privileged to be able to freely express my own personal beliefs, despite whether people agreed with me or not. There are literally people in countries where if they were to do what I was doing, there would be a threat to their wellbeing. All of this upset me greatly, especially as I read all of the stories from the persecuted. What kind of a world do we live in where people are punished for what their own personal beliefs are? It isn’t fair that a person’s opinions or beliefs and their criticism of other opinions or beliefs should be silenced simply because other people don’t agree. And through Blasphemy Day, I learned that I thankfully wasn’t the only person that felt this way.
While I manned the tables for a few hours and saw a pretty steady flow of people that supported our cause, one woman in particular stuck out to me. She came into the exhibit and was wearing a traditional hijab. She took her time; reading through all of the stories and looking around. Afterwards she came up to me and thanked me immensely for putting on the exhibit. She said that she was glad people were bringing these issues to attention and that she was very thankful that students were behind it. The gratitude she held in her voice was enough to make up for any people that walked by and thought we were just some weird kids in the corner ranting about political/religious jargon. And she wasn’t the only person to voice her appreciation.
Many people, both faculty and students, came up to us and thanked us for putting our time and effort into the exhibit. Through and through, there were resounding agreements that people should be able to freely express and criticize. It was very encouraging to know that there are other people out there that are concerned about the limitations that exist on freedom of expression. And I thought it was very important that UNIFI participated in this particular event.
I think that every person, regardless of beliefs or opinions, should participate in Blasphemy Rights Day. At the bottom of it all, religion is not the point—the point is freedom of expression. People deserve the right to question beliefs or religion and spark discussions without fear of punishment. While I’m glad UNIFI was able to be a part of it, I hope to see more and more groups become active and participate. We played a pivotal role by taking the first step and celebrating International Blasphemy Rights Day to increase awareness at our university. But the discussions I had with people at the exhibit and the issues debated should not be stop on the campus or be limited to just one day a year. We all should be concerned about our rights and the rights of others. And as I shared on the board: if you aren’t allowed to question, how will you ever know the answer?
About the Author: Natalie KaufmanNatalie Kaufman is an active member and volunteer for the University of Northern Iowa Freethinkers and Inquirers. She is currently studying Psychology/Philosophy at UNI.
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