Poll finds strong support for right to criticise religion

|PIC1|A survey of 20 nations has found strong support for the right to criticise religion.

According to the survey of more than 18,000 people, 57 per cent agreed that “people should be allowed to publicly criticise religion because people should have freedom of speech”.

The strongest support for the right to criticise religion was in the US, with 89 per cent, followed by Chile at 82 per cent and Mexico, at 81 per cent. Britain came fourth, with 81 per cent supporting the right to criticise religion.

Thirty-four per cent of all respondents supported the right of governments "to fine or imprison people who publicly criticise a religion because such criticism could defame the religion”.

The seven nations with a majority of support for prohibitions on the right to criticise religion had overwhelmingly Muslim populations. In Egypt, 71 per cent agreed that criticism of religion should be prohibited, followed by Pakistan, with 62 per cent, and Iraq, with 57 per cent.

The poll, by WorldPublicOpinion.org, was released today as the UN General Assembly prepares to debate a proposal calling for the prohibition of the defamation of religions.

The proposal has been put forward by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, which represents 56 Muslim nations. It calls on all nations of the world “to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular”.

The UN resolutions have alarmed human rights groups and faith bodies who warned in a joint statement this month that the proposals are “incompatible with the fundamental freedoms of individuals to freely exercise and peacefully express their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs”.

Signatories of the common statement include the Baptist World Alliance, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Jubilee Campaign and Open Doors.

It warns: “Unlike traditional defamation laws, which punish false statements of fact that harm individual persons, measures prohibiting the `defamation of religions’ punish the peaceful criticism of ideas.

“Additionally, the concept of `defamation of religions’ is fundamentally inconsistent with the universal principles outlined in the United Nations’ founding documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the protection of the rights of individuals, rather than ideas.”

CSW’s Advocacy Director Tina Lambert said the resolutions threatened to undermine existing international human rights protections related to religion, belief and freedom of expression.

“A legally-binding treaty would enable states to justify dubious domestic legislation such as the blasphemy law in Pakistan as a ‘human rights’ requirement,” she said.

"For the sake of those who already suffer unjustly under such legislation and for the protection of our existing international human rights framework, it is vital that member states act to prevent such a treaty or optional protocol being established.”

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