Religious Freedom and Freedom of Speech

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 11 April 2010

Under that theme „Religious freedom and freedom of speech“ two umbrella organisations (DFW and IBKA), both based in Germany invited people from all German states to join the event on 13th and 14th of March in Ludwigshafen. Main reason was a discussion along the claim for the abolition of the paragraph 166. Not only German but also european perspectives should be considered.
After an introduction of two representatives of each organisation to the conference theme, the participants could listen to three speeches from different perspectives:
– Gunnar Schedel (Aschaffenburg) talked about the consequences of §166
– Rainer Statz (Munich) talked about freedom of speech and blasphemy
– Silvana Uhlrich (Potsdam) talked about freedom of art and culture or blasphemy?

“The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.” (Freedom of speech law) After these interesting introductions into the issue of the conference, people could choose to go into smaller working groups to discuss further on specific points of freedom of speech and the consequences of §166. Possible themes have been:
– Abolition of §166
– Freedom of religion and public peace
– Reduction of human rights, especially freedxom of art through blasphemy
– The law situation in the EU-states

An interesting example for a blasphemy case:
Writer Salman Rushdie was accused of blasphemy and subject of a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, in February 1989.
Some ideas of these discussions have been described as following:
– the protection of intolerant groups is sometimes bigger in comparison to other tolerant groups due to fear of violence and public excesses
– basic political conflicts are mostly the activator for using §166, which is often more based on emotions than on arguments.
– the secularism is progressing and takes that paragraph all important life basics
– religious criticism should be accepted as social criticism. Right now church competitors do not have the same protection like to church on its own
– We should be more often insulted as philosophy of life as we have the same right to express our insult, but it seems that non-religious people have less problems to interact with criticism.

The notion of freedom of expression is intimately linked to political debate and the concept of democracy. The norms on limiting freedom of expression mean that public debate may not be completely suppressed even in times of emergency. Freedom of speech helps to provide a balance between stability and change. Freedom of speech acts as a “safety valve” to let off steam when people might otherwise be bent on revolution. The principle of open discussion is a method of
achieving a moral adaptable and at the same time more stable community, of maintaining the precarious balance between healthy cleavage and necessary consensus. A wider debate to that issue was the goal of the conference. We hope, this can be reached

Report by Silvana Uhlrich

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