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The University of Haifa Lectures in Bahá’í Studies

Edited By Soli Shahvar

This volume brings together a selection of essays from the Lecture Series in Bahá’í studies at the University of Haifa. Each chapter explores an aspect of the Bahá’í religion, including its history, community, culture and theoretical perspectives on contemporary issues. The authors discuss topics including the family and descendants of the Báb (founder of the religion from which the Bahá’í Faith emerged), the influential role of Bahá’í schools in the modernization of education in Iran, the process of introducing the law of monogamy into the Iranian Bahá’í community, early connections between Swiss citizens and Bahá’ís in the Middle East, the rich and varied landscape of Persian Bahá’í poetry, and the role of African Americans in the development of the US Bahá’í community, particularly with regard to race relations and the principle of the oneness of humanity. Also presented in this volume are Bahá’í perspectives on contemporary topics including changing conceptions of work and work values, the role of apologetics in interfaith dialogue, and the issue of ‘defamation of religions’ in international human rights discourse. This book will be of interest to readers in various disciplines in the humanities and social sciences who want to become informed in more depth about a wider range of topics in the emerging field of Bahá’í studies.
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9. A Bahá’í Perspective on ‘Defamation of Religions’

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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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