Criticizing Religious Beliefs Is a Fundamental Human Right

Image. Church and State
Social etiquette dictates that when in mixed company, one should avoid discussing politics and religion. As someone who is quite active on various social portals, I can attest to the visceral emotions that are triggered when these topics are broached!

By Gad Saad | Church and State

Clearly then, most people choose to play it safe and adhere to this social norm. More formally, various legal codes (e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978; see here) afford legal protection to individuals as a function of their political and religious affiliations among other variables that define one’s personhood (e.g., national identity, race, sexual orientation, and biological sex). Furthermore, several Western liberal democracies have instituted Hate Speech laws that make it illegal to forcefully criticize religious beliefs as this is construed as a form of fomenting hatred. Which of the latter social norms and legal edicts are congruent with or antithetical to the ethos of Western liberal democracies? Let me take each in turn.

As an academic, I value the free exchange of ideas. As such, while I understand the social pressures to avoid contentious discussions on politics and religion, I find this a form of intellectual cowardice. One’s political views and/or religious beliefs should not exist in an impenetrable and inviolable bubble wherein they are protected from criticism or scrutiny. Needless to say, I fully support the legal codes that are meant to protect individuals from discrimination. As someone whose family escaped execution in Lebanon (see here), I am only too aware of the evils of religious intolerance and hatred. That said I am unsure that in secular liberal democracies, one’s religion should fall in the same all-encompassing protective category as one’s sexual orientation, biological sex, or race.

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