Saturday, February 28, 2009

The United Nations aims to curtail speech that offends religion - USA view comments

Report of the Secretary-General 21 October 2008

United States of America
35. According to the United States, the concept of “defamation of religions” is not supported by international law and efforts to combat “defamation of religions” typically result in restrictions on the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and expression. The United States asserted that from a legal perspective, the “defamation of religions” concept is deeply problematic since under existing human rights law, individuals — not religions, ideologies, or beliefs — are the holders of
human rights and are protected by the law. However, the concept of defamation of religions seeks to convey the idea that a religion itself can be a subject of protection under human rights law, thereby potentially undermining protection for individuals.
36. The United States stated in addition that a defamatory statement (or other communication) is more than just an offensive one. It is also a statement that is false. Because one defence to a charge of defamation is that the statement is in fact true, the concept does not properly apply to that which cannot be verified as either true or false, such as statements of belief or opinion. Even offensive opinions and beliefs are not defamatory. It is also unclear how defamation could be defined considering that one individual’s sincere belief that his or her creed alone is the
truth inevitably conflicts with another’s sincerely held view of the truth.
37. The United States further submitted that even if a defamation standard were to be legally enforceable, and even if it could be enforced in an equitable manner, it would lead to numerous legal claims and counterclaims between majority and minority religious communities or dissenting members of a faith. Instead of fostering tolerance, such a standard would almost certainly lead to greater conflict and intolerance. What is considered to be a sacred statement by one may be viewed as sacrilegious to another, and could therefore be legally actionable as a
“defamation of religion”.
38. Regarding freedom of expression, the United States expressed the view that government should not prohibit or punish speech, even offensive or hateful speech, because of an underlying confidence that in a free society such hateful ideas will fail because of their own intrinsic lack of merit. However, freedom of expression that threatens the public good is not absolute, prohibitions are restricted to forms of expression that threaten the public good by, for example, inciting imminent violence or other unlawful activity; expression is not restricted merely for being offensive.
39. The United States agreed that more must be done to promote inter-religious understanding and believes concrete action supporting tolerance and individual rights is the best way to combat abusive actions and hateful ideologies.

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