As the UN General Assembly prepares to debate a proposal calling for its member nations to take action against the defamation of religion, a survey conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org shows that majorities in 13 of 20 nations polled around the world support the right to criticize a religion. According to the survey of more than 18,000 people, on average 57% of respondents agreed that "people should be allowed to publicly criticize a religion because people should have freedom of speech." 34% of respondents also agreed that governments "should have the right to fine or imprison people who publicly criticize a religion because such criticism could defame the religion."
The issue of whether freedom of speech should extend to criticism and defamation of religion has come to the forefront in recent months as the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a group of 56 Muslim nations, continues to promote a UN resolution that 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." There is even discussion of a binding treaty amendment to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), an existing international treaty on racism, that would include the defamation of religion.
It is interesting to note from the survey that of the seven nations where most people agree with that criticism of religion should be prohibited, five have overwhelmingly Muslim populations -- Egypt (71%), Pakistan (62%), Iraq (57%), Indonesia (49%), and the Palestinian territories (51%). The other two -- India (59%) and Nigeria (54%)—have a considerable history of religiously motivated violence.
Earlier this month, The Voice of the Martyrs joined a coalition of over 100 Christian, Muslim and Jewish organisations as well as humanist and secular groups from around the world in signing a common civil society statement against the concept of “defamation of religions.”
We continue to urge you to stand with us by contacting Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, John McNee, and encourage him to support Canada’s opposition to any defamation of religions resolutions and any attempt to extend the concept into binding treaties such as ICERD (for the contact information for UN embassies of other countries, click here). A preliminary vote on the General Assembly resolution is expected before the end of November with a final plenary vote expected in early to mid-December.