A statement by the International Institute for Religious Freedom and the WEA Religious Liberty Commission on defamation of religion

General December 27, 2010

We seek to adhere to the commandment to bear no false witness against anyone.

We also see no need for abasing the religions of others in order to lift up our own, as we do not consider our faith something we have created or own, but as a gift from God. So there is nothing we could improve about our faith by abasing that of others.

At the same time we uphold the right to open debate on any issue, including religion, and to criticise worldviews or religions, any tenets they hold, goals they pursue or actions they perform. So our encounter with adherents of other religions and worldviews might include robust debate, including the exposing of inhuman practices, and opposing lies, falsehoods and deception.

Equally we are willing to accept criticism of our faith, its tenets and our actions. Our response will be a critical self-examination on the one hand and a possible correction of our actions and a peaceful, verbal defense of our faith on the other hand, as appropriate.

So while we seek to uphold the truth in love, we cannot forego the verbal defense of our faith (apologetics) or the critical engagement of other beliefs (polemics) where appropriate.

When we see the Christian faith attacked, ridiculed or defamed, we remember that Christ was willing to bear misunderstanding and ridicule of his person and message. So as his followers we consider it an honour to bear shame for his name.

We further consider it the God given responsibility of any civil authority to maintain the peace in their community. We therefore acknowledge the right of an authority to set limits to the freedom of speech in order to prevent malicious maligning of others in order to prevent civil strive. There is a delicate balance between freedom of speech and maintenance of public peace which is differently solved in various contexts.

Attempts made on various levels to protect religions per se against so called defamation, instead of protecting the religious freedom of the individual do not find our support. We equally deplore that so called blasphemy laws are being abused in a number of countries to falsely accuse Christians of crimes they usually did not commit, and we call for their abolition.

In the eyes of many observers the attempts of criminalising “defamation of religion” in international conventions, is a thinly veiled effort by its proponents to justify their abuse of religious freedom in their own countries by blasphemy laws, apostasy laws and the like. As these advances are usually made by Muslim governments, they appear as an attempt to establish the supremacy of Islam by warding off any criticism of its tenets and practices.

We therefore call on our national governments and the United Nations not to criminalise the defamation of any religions, in particular Islam. 

By Dr. Christof Sauer, Co-Director (Cape Town)