A controversial bill that was introduced in Britain last June would make it illegal to say or write anything that might offend people of any religion. The bill came under criticism because its vague wording would quite likely threaten free speech. In response, PEN has recently published a collection of essays, titled Free Expression is No Offence. You can read excerpts from the contributions by Philip Pullman, Monica Ali, Philip Hensher and Salman Rushdie in the Guardian. Here’s a snippet from Monica Ali’s contribution:
What’s the problem here? I think there are many but I want to set them out in three broad areas. The first concerns the differences between race and religion as far as free speech is concerned. It is not in the faintest way plausible to vilify a particular race and to claim that no harm is intended towards members, individually or collectively, of that racial group.
Religions, on the other hand, are sets of ideas and beliefs. They should not be privileged over any other set of notions. I am not bound to respect the idea that I may be reincarnated as an insect or a donkey or that Jesus is the son of God or anything else that I regard as mumbo-jumbo. Indeed, if there are aspects and practices of a religion that conflict with my own notions and beliefs (of fairness and justice and so on) then the moral onus is on me to speak up against them. If I loathe the fact that Islam has been used to deny the right of women in Saudi Arabia to vote then I ought to say so.
Read it all here.