22-March-2013 -- EWTNews Feature |

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Panel Considers Problem Of Western Anti-Blasphemy Rules

Commenting on the use of anti-hate speech laws as anti-blasphemy laws, a group of religious freedom experts that radical Islamic codes are posing a threat to free speech in the West.

"What's at stake is the imposition and implementation of Sharia Islamic blasphemy codes against any negative statement, attitude or activity" directed at Islam, said journalist and lawyer Deborah Weiss.

At a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on March 19, Weiss was joined by Lars Hedegaard, chairman of the Danish Free Press Society, and Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy.

The March 19 discussion followed the screening of "Silent Conquest," a film detailing the rise of free speech restrictions in Western countries under regulations labeled as intending to protect minority groups.

The film and discussion afterwards warned of the use of Western anti-hate-speech laws to enforce Islamist anti-blasphemy laws by some radical Islamists. The film warned that such a phenomenon already exists in Europe and parts of it have been incorporated into International Law.

In recent years, religious liberty experts have warned that attempts to "export" radical Islamic anti-blasphemy laws to the West could pose a threat to freedom of speech in the U.S.

Such codes are used in the Muslim worlds to stifle both religious minorities and other Muslims who support religious liberty, free speech and democracy, they caution, noting that free criticism of ideas - including criticism of all religions - is part of the robust free speech that the American founders deemed necessary for a democracy.

According to Weiss, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an international partnership of 57 Muslim states, has defined Islamaphobia as "any anti-Islam or anti-Muslim attitude or activity" and this definition has been adopted by countries in Europe and in Canada.

While this may seem like a good initiative to prevent discrimination, she said, "any criticism of any Islam-related topic" can be labeled as "hate speech" or defamation, including views based on one's own religious beliefs or on facts about Muslim majority countries, such as the prevalence of genital mutilation in sub-Saharan Africa or child marriage in the Middle East.

Weiss also commented that the laws that are used to enforce anti-defamation claims typically start out as laws promoting and enforcing secular tolerance. She noted that while it is admirable to desire a tolerant society, the "minute you start to censor ideas, you run the risk of having it twisted and manipulated around the road."

"The purpose of freedom of speech is to be able to speak," she said, "not to silence other people through laws."

"True tolerance," she added, "is tolerating the slight offense, the slight insult, the slight joke that offends you, in order to achieve the greater cause of freedom."

Hedegaard, a Danish citizen, explained that in Europe, "the truth is no defense" for defamation charges, so even if a statement is true and of public interest, it can be prosecuted if it is determined that it was intended "for public dissemination."

Gaffney added that when certain speech cannot be outlawed, there is a risk that groups will instead "use shaming and peer pressure" to encourage self-censorship.

He also noted a rising trend in thinking of free speech as a privilege given by the government.

"I don't think of the constitution as a 'free speech model,'" said Gaffney. "I think it is an inalienable right, given to us by God."

Read more: http://www.ewtnnews.com/catholic-news/US.php?id=7299#ixzz2OHCxXof6

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