Edited By Soli Shahvar
9. A Bahá’í Perspective on ‘Defamation of Religions’
Freedom of expression is of very high value in international human rights law – foundational to a vigorous civil society, to the space for human rights defenders to ensure that rights are realized, to political representation and to the search for truth and the expression of individual identity. As is well known, freedom of expression is never absolute. The spectrum of allowable freedom of expression in international law is very broad: at one end of that spectrum it is vigorously defended; at the other, however, it can be restricted in deference to the rights or reputations of others or for the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals.1 Furthermore, States are required to prohibit ‘hate speech’,2 particularly within the framework of genocide prevention.3
In this chapter, I will not be looking at either extreme of this spectrum but will discuss an issue of recent pedigree which has become a lively, largely political, debate in international circles: ‘defamation of religions’.4 I will restrict myself to the parameters of the debate on defamation of religions itself and will focus on its motivations and possible legal implications. I will not examine such specific topics as hate speech laws, holocaust denial or ‘truth laws’ as upheld in some national jurisdictions, or phenomena such as anti-Semitism5 more broadly. Nor will I consider the question whether, in principle, incitement of religious hatred should be taken as seriously as incitement of racial hatred in international human rights law.6 After charting...
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