'Objective Criticism' of Religion
Deemed a Human Right

ollowing intense debate at the United Nations over what constitutes religious defamation, Asma Jahangir, U.N. special rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, said “objective criticism” of religion is a human right. But, she said, there is a difference between criticism and outright defamation.
Many religious people believe they alone have the truth, convinced that “[their] religion is better, is superior,” said Jahangir, speaking to members of the U.N. Non-Governmental Organization Committee for Freedom of Religion or Relief at U.N. headquarters October 25. That mentality can lead to the defamation of other religions or belief systems, she said.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: Asma Jahangir, special rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief with Jonathan Gallagher, Adventist Church liaison to the United Nations. During remarks to U.N. officials, Jahangir said objective criticism of religions and belief systems is not considered defamation. [PARL photo]

Jahangir expressed concern, however, that in addressing defamation, officials not go so far as to include mere criticism of religion.
If such an extensive definition of defamation was adopted, she cautioned, “Social norms based on religion could not be debated. Defamation is an issue of civil law, not a violation of human rights,” she said.
Jahangir also critiqued blasphemy laws, which she said are used to silence dissent. “Religion can be used as a tool of fear, used against minorities, and to crush internal dissent,” she said.
Jahangir added, Religion is sometimes compared to race, and the provisions against racial hatred are then applied to religion. Such a comparison is unfounded, she said, because “religion is unlike race—you cannot proselytize to change [your] race. There are serious differences.”
There is not yet consensus among U.N. member states on how best to approach defamation of religion issues, Jahangir said.
When Jonathan Gallagher, liaison to the U.N. for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, asked how Jahangir planned to carry out her duties as special rapporteur, she called for broad support and research assistance.
Jahangir has recently completed missions studying the issue of religious defamation in the United Kingdom and Tajikistan. Upcoming missions include Angola, Israel, India, and Turkmenistan.

“While there are problems in every country, democratic norms lead to freedom of religion,” Jahangir said. “In a closed society, restrictions on [religious freedom] result. Serious limitations on freedom of religion impact economic development.”
                                                                                       — Reported by PARL and Adventist News Network

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