Freedom of Conscience and Expression

ihs.jpgEditors’ Note: Frank Robinson attended the 17th World Humanist Conference in Washington D.C., jointly sponsored by the International Humanist & Ethical Union (IHEU) and The American Humanist Association (AHA), during the weekend of June 5-8, 2008. More information about the conference is still available here and here.Frank recorded, on his blog, commentary about various conference sessions/lectures that he had attended; his thoughtful descriptions deserved the attention of The Eloquent Atheist readership. Departing from his blog, we are including his expanded comments on particularly noteworthy performances, which might inform our readership of the current trends and issues that are prominent within the Humanist movement. Frank’s remarks will be published over several days. Enjoy, Michael and Marilyn

Institute of Humanist Studies (HIS) President Larry Jones was moderator. First, Maryam Namazie spoke on “The Right and Duty to Criticize Islam.” Namazie is a former Muslim. Freedom of conscience, Namazie said, is not a “Western” value, and it matters most when it comes to criticizing religion and things held sacred. This is vital to human progress. And Islam, in particular, she asserted, is a culture of violence that has wreaked havoc on its peoples. A “moderate” religion is one that has been reined back by an Enlightenment.

Religious freedom, she insisted, does not include the right to be respected and sheltered from being offended. Criticizing a belief is not the same as attacking the person who holds it. It’s the human being—not a creed—that must be held sacred. And, Namazie said, this is not a clash of civilizations, but rather a clash of the uncivilized.

Matt Cherry, IHS Executive Director spoke next on “Freedom of Conscience as a Fundamental Right.” He noted that identifying oneself as an ex-Muslim (as in the case of Ms. Namazie) is very dangerous in today’s world, because Islam does not recognize a right to leave the faith. Such apostates earn a death sentence. That, of course, is a fundamental violation of the principle of freedom of conscience. And, echoing Ms. Namazie, he stressed that it’s not religions that have these rights, only individuals do.

Matt called attention to the case of Dr. Younis Shaikh, a Pakistani professor sentenced to death for blasphemy. Invoking the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the US government, together with some NGOs, were able to get Dr. Shaikh freed. (Shaikh’s blasphemy consisted of telling his students that, prior to the start of the Islamic religion, Muhammad and his deceased parents were non-Muslims.)

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