‘Blasphemy Laws’ in Democracy – Petition to the Government of Canada

Petition to the Government of Canada

Whereas:
  • It has been eight decades since the last conviction under Section 296, and thirty-five years since the last charge of blasphemous libel was laid;
  • Blasphemous libel serves no purpose in Canadian law or modern-day society, and would likely be found to contravene section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression;
  • In Canada and elsewhere, blasphemy laws have been abused to suppress minorities and stifle inconvenient speech;
  • Authoritarian states point to Canada’s blasphemous libel law to defend their own laws criminalizing blasphemy;
  • Repealing Canada’s blasphemy law would demonstrate, at home and abroad, Canada’s commitment to the value of free speech for all; and
  • Freedom of expression is the foundational human right in our society. Many others, including freedom of assembly and freedom of conscience, are derived from freedom of expression.
We, the undersigned, residents of Canada, call upon the Government of Canada to repeal Section 296 (Blasphemous Libel) of the Canadian Criminal Code.”

As for those who protest ‘blasphemous libel’ as an expression of ‘hate speech’ – speech so repulsive, repugnant that it should be silenced in the modern-day Western world – free speech scholar Eric Heinze counterargues the impact and validity of these arguments; however, for the context of ‘blasphemous libel’, let’s draft the three main arguments for such legislation:

  1. That ‘Islamaphobia’ is on a rise and these ‘blasphemy laws’ are the appropriate measure against religious bigotry and intolerance. However, ‘blasphemy laws’ may be shaped vaguely such that ‘blasphemous libel’ may include genuine criticism of the religion (read Why Evolution is True‘s post, “Islamophobia motion” in Canada stirs controversy for more information). Regardless, in the case of the United States, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the repulsive Phelps family in Snyder v. Phelps, stipulating that outrageous speech cannot be liable for a tort of emotional distress. As repulsive the idea of Christian zealots shouting absurdities at a grieving family, we should no sooner incarcerate them as we would incarcerate writer Gersh Kuntzman for his piece, a piece that described the assassination of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov not only as a just “retribution for Vladimir Putin’s war crimes” but also nonchalantly characterized the terrorist as everything but one. Also, imagine the absurdity of people jailed for exercising the right to ‘hate speech’ but expecting the dominant ideologies and structures not to exercise an abuse of power and that these laws will surely remain static through the passage of time, always serving the same purpose/intent.
  2. That ‘hate speech’ is not speech at all. This is an absurd argument, in my own opinion, because what separates the exercise of free speech and the exercise of ‘hate speech’, in the mind of this person, is the element of moral outrage which in itself is left to interpretation and subjectivity. I cannot send whoever outrages and/or offends me to prison, regardless of whatever emotional distress I may claim; why would I want Muslim constituents to possess that right?
  3. That ‘hate speech’ will lead to outrages comparable to the Holocaust. However, Heinz properly argues against this claim, citing the lack of causality between “hate speech uttered generally within the public discourse of [‘longstanding, stable, and prosperous democracies’ (LSPD)]” and mobilization of violence against minority groups. Furthermore, Heinz elaborates on the possible ‘why’, stating that the “formal and informal structures of LSPDs have developed many buffers to intolerance, absent in weaker democracies”. In the case of Western democracies, violent discriminatory actions are nearly always met with retaliation from the government; after all, the Canadians would not halt in the incarnation of criminally violent zealots anytime sooner.

Readers, show your support for the exercise of freedom of speech, even for outrageous expressions: https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-38.

For more information on current legislation in motion in Canada regarding the topic (and the source of inspiration for this post), check out Why Evolution is True‘s post, “Islamophobia motion” in Canada stirs controversy.

 

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