Today, September 30, is International Blasphemy Rights Day.
The annual event is administered by the Center for Inquiry (CFI) as part of its Campaign for Free Expression and described as "a day to promote the rights to freedom of belief and expression and to stand up in a show of solidarity for the liberty to challenge reigning religious beliefs without fear of murder, litigation, or reprisal." CFI launched the event in 2009 in part to emphasize the fact that criticism of religious beliefs is still prohibited through legal sanctions or social pressure in many parts of the world.
Multiple incidents over the last twelve months have underscored the appalling lack of freedom in many countries to express even the blandest criticism of either religion in general or the dominant religion in a particular country. To name just some examples, there are the cases involving Rimsha Masih, Hamza Kashgari, Alexander Aan, Sanal Edamaruku, Hamad al-Naqi, Pussy Riot, and Alber Saber.
One reason our concern for the freedom of others should not stop at our borders is because the desire of the dogmatists to regulate speech does not stop at their borders. Various leaders from Islamic countries have recently demanded international laws prohibiting attacks on religion. Embarrassingly, proponents of such laws have included NATO allies, such as Recep Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey. The quality of the arguments in favor of such international laws is exemplified by the recent UN speech of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s president. Morsi told the UN that “Egypt respects freedom of expression,” just not “a freedom of expression that targets a specific religion or a specific culture.” In other words, Egypt respects the right to freely express those views that the majority of its people like.
I recognize that some of the impassioned calls to suppress speech critical of religion are motivated by the furor over the film “Innocence of Muslims.” But I don’t think the push for increased censorship is a transient phenomenon. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (a group with 57 member countries) has been arguing for stricter regulation of speech critical of religion for years. The outrage over the film merely provides a convenient reason for pushing harder on this issue now.
Adding to Lindsay's remarks, Algeria's foreign minister asked the UN General Assembly, at its meeting in New York last week, to limit freedom of expression because of the protests generated over the Innocence of Muslims film.
Blasphemy Day videos are popping up on YouTube for the event, but they are not officially connected with CFI. A Facebook page sponsored by CFI lists events — but as CFI suggests, one way to commemorate International Blasphemy Rights Day is simply to educate yourself about the threat to human rights and free speech posed by blasphemy laws.