The Council of Europe has come down on the side of free expression after it rejected calls from religious groups to introduce new legislation to protect them from insult and offence. IHEU member organization The National Secular Society was prominent at a seminar in which the Council of Europe gathered evidence for its report.
Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, who presented the Society’s evidence at the Council of Europe’s Assembly in Paris in May, said he was delighted with the outcome.
The Council of Europe’s deliberations led to Resolution 1510 (2006), which reads, in part: “The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reaffirms that there cannot be a democratic society without the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The progress of society and the development of every individual depend on the possibility of receiving and imparting information and ideas. This freedom is not only applicable to expressions that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive but also to those that may shock, offend or disturb the state or any sector of population, in accordance with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. …
“The Assembly is of the opinion that freedom of expression as protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights should not be further restricted to meet increasing sensitivities of certain religious groups. At the same time, the Assembly emphasises that, hate speech against any religious group is not compatible with the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention and the case law of the Court.
“Blasphemy has a long history. The Assembly recalls that laws punishing blasphemy and criticism of religious practices and dogmas have often had a negative impact on scientific and social progress. The situation started changing with the enlightenment and progressed further towards secularisation. Modern democratic societies tend to be secular and more concerned with individual freedoms. The recent debate about the Danish cartoons raised the question of these two perceptions…”
The Assembly will now turn its attention to legislation on blasphemy, religious insults and hate speech against persons on grounds of their religion throughout Europe. It will also take further evidence on human rights and racial intolerance. The National Secular Society is already assisting the Council in collecting evidence for this next stage of their work.
You can read the NSS’s presentation to the Council of Europe at http://www.secularism.org.uk/speechbykeithporteouswoodtocounc.html