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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Currently in word-wrangling mode

I'm working on a big chapter about religious freedom and freedom of speech. I've spoken and written on aspects of this before, but mainly in the Australian context. Most of what I'm coming up with now is new material, and a lot of it is based on case law from the European Court of Human Rights, which has developed a rich jurisprudence in this area. It's becoming apparent that there could be a whole book in this topic, but if so it'll have to wait for another time.

I do think that a lot of people (sometimes including the ECHR judges) tie themselves up in unnecessary knots finding conflict between freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The simplest way to understand them is as negative rights against the state. The state can't persecute you on religious grounds and it can't shut you up because it doesn't like what you're saying. In some cases, these freedoms can overlap (e.g. if you're expressing an unpopular religious message, as required by your religion's canons of conduct for its adherents), but they can never be in conflict.

But of course there can be a conflict if freedom of religion is somehow construed as freedom from criticism by fellow citizens, or as a positive right to call on the resources of the state to shut them up if you don't like what they're saying. I reckon we should resist that sort of interpretation. The real historical evils that led to modern ideas of freedom of religion related to state impositions of preferred religions and persecutions of dispreferred religions. Getting rid of those impositions and persecutions should be enough. After that, it's every idea, religious or otherwise, for itself.

10 comments:

Rupert said...

Cannot someone help me please? I need to know how to change parts of text to italics to delineate between quotes and fresh text. Parenthesis isn't sufficient.

My most humble apologies for 'hijacking' Russell but I didn't know where else to turn.

Rupert said...

I mean in the context of posting on blogs with the same format as this one.

Russell Blackford said...

Do you mean for comments? I use html tags like this. I.e. I just used an i and a /i in the pointy bracket things surrounding the word "this".

Rupert said...

Maybe I'm a bit slow Russell but I don't seem to understand. I tried copying and pasting the i surrounded by brackets and tried the i and /i bizzo but no luck.
I'm really sorry for taking your time but it's important.

Rupert said...

Hello, I seem to have finally figured it out.

Thank you for your indulgence.

DM said...

russell - ever hear of HUBRIS?


you are a mere mortal trying to be HIGHER THAN GOD...


we cut you down to size....

Russell Blackford said...

No problem, Rupert.

al said...

Well. Golly. Based on DM's response, I think we can consider the case rested. All very dramatic and serious, I'm sure. I wonder if it was a cut-and-paste job or if they wrote it all in one go especially for you? If the latter, that's a fascinatingly structured stream of consciousness in which they drift.

Back to grown-up land, I've been thinking recently about the freedom of speech vs/and/or/in relation to religious freedom, so thank you for adding to my suitcase of ideas to mull.

Russell Blackford said...

Try not to feed our resident troll. I throw it a bone now and then, but we don't want it getting fat and unhealthy.

lex said...

Ah yes. My apologies.