Censorship of Religious Criticism

Recent cases in France and Canada illustrate the growing movement to censor speech critical of religion. This trend must be fought, or liberty is lost.

The Ayn Rand Institute reviews the French case:

“The conviction of Brigitte Bardot by a French court for ‘inciting hatred against Muslims’ is a gross violation of her right to free speech and should be denounced by every civilized nation,” said Thomas Bowden, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute.

Bardot was fined $23,325 on Tuesday — barely escaping a jail sentence — for a statement made in a letter to France’s interior minister, protesting Muslims’ refusal to stun animals before slaughtering them during religious holidays. The fine was levied for the following statement: “I’ve had enough of being led by the nose by this whole population which is destroying us, (and) destroying our country by imposing their ways.”

“Bardot’s statement was an expression of political opinion and obviously did not constitute coercion, or threat of coercion, against anyone,” said Bowden. “As such, the French government has no right to fine or penalize her in any way for the exercise of her individual right of free speech.

“Moreover, there is no rational basis for a crime of ‘inciting hatred.’ Hatred is the emotion one feels in response to evil. Thus, to criminalize the incitement of hatred is to criminalize the expression of moral judgment, inasmuch as any moral denunciation may cause others to hate the alleged evildoer.” …

David Harsanyi of The Denver Post discusses the case in Canada:

Steyn is a U.S.-based journalist, columnist and best-selling author of “America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It,” a book that deals with demographics and Muslim influence in the Western world. Not only is Steyn’s work widely read, his opinions — whether you find them agreeable or not — are also worthy of debate.

Yet when Maclean’s, the largest-circulation magazine in Canada, published a Steyn essay based on “America Alone,” it sparked a volley of suits and a vile legal ordeal.

First, the Ontario Human Rights Commission held a tribunal and deemed Steyn’s essay “Islamophobic.” Now, the British Columbia human rights commission in Vancouver has held a week-long trial on the matter. A federal commission is waiting on investigators to decide whether to proceed against Steyn.

Within the context of individual rights, the freedom of speech must be held as absolute. Freedom of speech does not protect violations of rights such as fraud and incitements to violence, but certainly it must protect criticisms of any ideology, including Islam, regardless of what the targets of the criticisms think or do about it. (Any civilized person responds to argument with argument.)

Free speech is a pillar of a free society. Censorship is an early mark of tyranny.