Religion and free speech

Modern democracies often tread on a delicate line when it comes to the relation between freedom of speech and religious beliefs. In theory, democracies ensure both the freedom of speech and religious freedom of their citizens. But where does one person's right end to freely criticize a religious belief ? And where does another person's right begin for their beliefs to be respected?

Religion should not be our society’s sacred cow

02/18/2018 - 13:18
The Slovak Republic is officially a Catholic country, yet it does not cease to suffer from major issues and religion only exasperates them. Blind faith is not a virtue of our society, rather its most dangerous vice. As the Anglo-American writer Christopher Hitchens had put it “Religion Poisons Everything!”

On January 23rd 2018, a popular Slovak Christian conservative magazine Týždeň (Week), headed by a strong pro-American and a pro-Western journalist Stefan Hríb, published an appeal headlined “Mr. Prime Minister, stop insulting people because of their religion”. It proudly carries signatures from evangelical theologians, an imam and a Muslim political scientist Jozef Lenč. This appeal lobs a strong critique on our incumbent Prime Minister Mr. Fico for his anti-Muslim statements. These are the following: Muslims cannot integrate, Muslims should not serve in the army or the police force, there must never be a Muslim Ummah(community). The final nail in the coffin, that they have added, is the Prime Minister’s remark in a show named Sobotné Dialógy (Saturday’s Dialogues), where he said that “Tourists want to come to us, where there are no explosions, where they will not be harassed by Muslims on the street.“ The main point of this appeal was to discourage the leader of our country from criticizing religion. The explicit message is “stop insulting people because of their religious beliefs”.

A few fair points

While I do take issue with the title and the main message it entails many points are not incorrect. For example, it is outrageous to suggest that people with different religious beliefs should not serve in the military or the police forces. It is equally ludicrous to claim that tourists want to “come here” because of the absence of “devious Muslim harassers“. Nobody ever thinks of cancelling their private flight to Paris or not hopping on a train heading for Hamburg because they fear some anonymous hoodlums. One visits their favourite country because it is close to their heart or there is some interesting historical site to explore. If the Prime Minister’s claims were true, Slovakia would have been flooded with foreigners by now, however no such phenomenon has occurred yet. Also I can’t bring myself to nod when someone says that Muslims are unable to integrate. What nonsense. Bosnia is a majority Muslim country, and the capital Sarajevo has the largest number of mixed marriages, between Muslims and Christians in the whole country. Al Qaeda was lost for words, when it tried to recruit members for its death cult, in Bosnia, after the organization had found out about the level of secularism in the former Yugoslavian state. I see nothing wrong with criticizing the religion of Islam but persecution is not the answer for solving any problems and cannot be justified. However as I have said previously my agreement only goes so far.

There is no “right not to be offended”

I find the wording of the title very poor, as well as the plea for trying not to offend. People can be offended almost by anything. Does that mean we have to walk on eggshells and coddle everyone? No. As one of the American founding fathers Thomas Paine has said: “He, who does not dare to offend, cannot be honest“. We have two choices, either we will have open, rigorous discussions or we will be quiet and have order mixed with discipline. Offense is always taken, never given. We ought not to be nice to terrible ideas. Especially, when it comes to religion, which is ingrained in our society and gets all of the privileges it needs and far more (such as taxpayer dollars for churches). Religious people should be on the same level as anyone else. They don’t have the right to acquire more rights than ordinary citizens. There is nothing more moral in believing in the supernatural than not. Many wars were fought claiming God was with them. Therefore, I will never agree or echo the sentiment in this appeal, while I can still appreciate parts of it. There is no excuse for acting like fundamentalist Islam is not a threat. But Muslims have rights as citizens and I stand in solidarity with them when they face genuine persecution but hurting one’s sensitive feelings cannot be taken seriously.

The people are not the problem, ideology is

People can be good or bad regardless of their religion but it is their ordinary morality that makes them good, not their religion. So one should not avoid offending religion. But there’s ample room to criticize it! Theocratic barbarism had given us several backward regimes. Claims that people need religion or that it is beneficial to a state somehow are proven false not just by the examples listed but also by my home country. Slovak Republic is officially a Catholic country, yet it does not cease to suffer from major issues and religion only exasperates them. The legalization of gay marriage would be a one example, the only obstacle to it is so called Christian morality. Blind faith is not a virtue of our society, rather its most dangerous vice. So in summary the Tyždeň´s appeal had some good points and critiques but the overall message was false. Religion should never be our society’s sacred cow.


This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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