This week the Center for Inquiry joined the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) in opposing blasphemy laws at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
CFI holds special consultative status as a non-governmental organization, or NGO, under the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Both CFI and the IHEU have been active in recent years opposing so-called blasphemy laws, which aim to suppress criticism and free speech about religious beliefs. Such laws have been used to persecute nonbelievers, religious minorities and religious dissidents. In some countries, including Pakistan, the “crime” of blasphemy carries the penalty of death.
After a procedural technicality prevented the IHEU from delivering its statement before the Human Rights Council, CFI agreed to deliver a joint statement on behalf of both CFI and the IHEU condemning blasphemy laws and violence in the name of religion. The statement was jointly crafted by UN representatives from both organizations. Unfortunately, Georgina Hutchinson, CFI’s main representative in Geneva, was unable to deliver the speech when the Human Rights Council session ended early on Friday 11 March. Instead, the speech was delivered later by Jack Jeffery of IHEU.
The speech in full reads as follows:
UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: Monday 14 March 2011
Agenda Item 3, Promotion and Protection of all human rights
Speaker: Jack Jeffery for CFI Main Representative, Georgina Hutchinson
Blasphemy, and violence in the name of religion
We welcome the report of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief [A/HRC/16/53] and note that violence in the name of religion is apparently growing in many counties. For example, the recent murders in Pakistan of Governor Salman Taseer and Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti have shocked us all.
In this context, we note the excellent statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, released on 2 March  in which she condemned the assassinations and went on to call on the Pakistan Government to declare a moratorium on the application of the blasphemy laws.
We recognise the problems faced by governments around the world, including Pakistan, in confronting extremism, but the extremists must be confronted, Mr President.
The Pakistani assassins reportedly gave their victim’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as the reason for their murders, so it is incorrect to argue that the murders cannot be linked to the blasphemy laws – as the distinguished representative of Pakistan did here last Thursday.
For many years the OIC has argued for the criminalisation of defamation of religion, thereby providing legitimacy for their infamous blasphemy laws – infamous, because it is only in Pakistan and certain other States that blasphemy carries the death penalty.
All blasphemy laws must be reviewed, Mr President, and all States have an obligation to bring their legislation into line with international law. Religious dissidents, religious minorities and nonbelievers must not face persecution or death under blasphemy laws.
If I were a Christian and were to say “Jesus was not merely a prophet, he was divine,” why should I be subject to the death penalty anywhere?
CFI welcomed the opportunity to work collaboratively with IHEU on this project, as the two organizations share many common goals.