Via Crooked Timber, another story of European hypocrisy on freedom of speech. Many commentators have talked about the effrontery of Muslims in demanding that expression be censored to conform to their religious sensibilities. The problem is that, in most European jurisdictions, speech can and is already limited to conform to the sensibilities of Christians. For example, in 1989 the film "Visions of Ecstasy" (a short porn movie about "the ecstatic and erotic visions of St Teresa of Avila") was banned in the UK on the grounds that it was blasphemous - i.e. offensive to Christians. The film's director appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that a blasphemy law contravened the guarantee of freedom of expression in the European Convention of Human Rights. He lost. Following a previous judgement, in which the court had
accepted that respect for the religious feelings of believers can move a State legitimately to restrict the publication of provocative portrayals of objects of religious veneration,
the court ruled that
[F]reedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society... however, the exercise of that freedom carries with it duties and responsibilities. Amongst them, in the context of religious beliefs, may legitimately be included a duty to avoid as far as possible an expression that is, in regard to objects of veneration, gratuitously offensive to others and profanatory
This doesn't justify the death threats to cartoonists or the violent riots happening in various parts of the world, of course - but it does show that Muslims have a fair point in asking why their religious sensibilities don't count when other people's do. My answer of course would be that no-one's religious sensibilities should count; that legal protection of any religion from criticism, insult or "blasphemy" is a violation of the freedoms of religion, conscience, and expression which make an open and tolerant society possible. Unfortunately, most European nations (and, I must add, New Zealand) would rather be hypocrites.