Resources on Faith, Ethics and Public Life

Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression

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The tension between the right to freedom of expression and the desire among many people and countries to prohibit blasphemous or religiously hurtful speech has become a focal point of relations between the Western and Muslim Worlds, as well as within and between other religious and cultural groups. Many countries, including but not limited to those that are predominantly Muslim, have laws against blasphemy or the defamation of religion; supporters claim that such restrictions on free speech serve to maintain societal harmony, while opponents argue that they are used to suppress minority faith communities. Some of the most high-profile controversies in this debate have revolved around publications deemed offensive by many Muslims but protected by freedom of expression: the novel The Satanic Verses, cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and an online video called Innocence of Muslims. While these controversies have further polarized the issue, they have also opened up potential opportunities for each side to understand the other's values and point of view.


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