June 18, 2009
Anyone familiar with the Center for Inquiry knows it is firmly committed to protecting the right of individuals to express their viewpoints, opinions, and beliefs. Accordingly, CFI has been dismayed by efforts in recent years to limit freedom of expression, in particular speech deemed critical of religion.
Various United Nations bodies, including the UN’s Human Rights Council, have adopted resolutions condemning so-called “defamation” of religion. Although currently not legally binding, we anticipate efforts will be made to have such resolutions acquire the force of international law. Recent advances by Islamic countries in gaining acceptance of the notion of religious defamation illustrate the increasing threat presented by these efforts. Even some Western European countries are debating laws that would criminalize religiously offensive statements. Currently, Ireland seems poised to enact a new blasphemy law that would prohibit publication of material “insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion.”
this video from the Center for Inquiry
illustrates, prohibiting discussion of certain subjects is absurd and violates our fundamental right to express our views.
In addition to religious institutions, many governments try to—and do—place severe restrictions on free expression. The recent suppression of protests in Iran, along with media coverage of such protests, constitutes a vivid reminder of government interference with free speech, but there are many more examples. China has announced plans to require all personal computers to have Web filters that would block access to government-disfavored sites, and even nominally democratic nations such as Russia legally prohibit insults “of a representative of authority.” Then, of course, there are the unofficial means of suppressing free speech, such as the murder of journalists and dissenters.
CFI believes we must increase public awareness of these threats to freedom of expression, discuss and develop plans to prevent curtailment of free expression, and demonstrate that people care about their rights to free expression and are eager to exercise them. To that end, CFI plans a campaign for the balance of 2009 that will include these elements among others:
- An essay contest on the value of free expression, open to all students currently enrolled in accredited colleges and universities, with a grand prize of $2,000;
- A cartoon contest, judged by professional cartoonists, in which the theme will be the doctrines of humanity’s various religions (we aim to be as ecumenical as possible);
- Sponsorship of International Blasphemy Day, September 30, 2009, when persons around the world will demonstrate their right to uninhibited expression of their views of religion;
The launching of a new Web site,
,which will be maintained and updated by CFI’s affiliate, the Council for Secular Humanism, and, as content is added, will feature reports on recent censorship attempts and controversies as well as original material that would be suppressed under the laws of some countries;
- Special events with prominent guest speakers;
- Web pages devoted to the discussion of contemporary champions of free expression;
- A petition drive aimed at preventing suppression of speech critical of religion.
Details of all these initiatives—and others—will be forthcoming in the near future.
In the meantime, please commit to joining us in making 2009 the year in which we make it clear to all governments, religions, and other institutions that our voices will be heard—on whatever subject we choose. No topic off limits! No more taboos!
Ideas don’t need rights—people do. Protect dissent.
Read the CFI Campaign for Free Expression press release