Freedom of Expression/Defamation of Religion

There is an international movement to restrict, and in some cases criminalize, speech that is deemed critical or “defamatory” of religions.  The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been advancing this initiative in successive resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the GA, and it has emerged as a centerpiece of the upcoming Durban Review Conference (Durban II) scheduled for April, 2009 in Geneva.


Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion are prerequisites of a free society.  To criminalize speech and public discourse in the name of protecting any religion, rather than to allow differing views to be debated, provides rationale for limiting and punishing the expression of differing religious views.  No ideology, political ideal, or even religion should enjoy immunity under international law from critique or debate and the use of blasphemy and other such laws to limit speech has a tragic history in many countries.


At the same time, as a community that has been victimized by incitement to religious hatred, hate violence, discrimination and also the denial of rights of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, we oppose the demonizing of members of any group based on their faith, and the bigotry that it fosters toward millions of people living in our communities.


Therefore, the Jewish community relations field is called upon to:


  • Oppose efforts to criminalize speech under the vague definition of “defamation of religion” as a violation of universal freedoms of expression and belief.
  • Urge the U.S., the European nations, and others to oppose all attempts to amend international law to curb freedom of expression under the guise of protecting religions or any ideology from criticism.
  • Uphold the principle that all faiths, beliefs and ideas must be open to debate, discussion, and even criticism. 
  • Continue to be vigilant in speaking out against the demonization of any religion.