Blasphemy again

Derek C. Araujo points out that Pakistan is using the definition of blasphemy used in the recent Irish law as part of the concerted Islamic effort to get the UN to urge member states to prevent defamation of religion.

Now, let me make a not-so-wild guess and predict that in the medium term, we should expect free speech to become more curtailed where criticism of religion is concerned. Conservative religious groups are strong, organized, and determined to remove offense to their sensibilities from the public realm. At the very least, I expect they’ll be able to force more political compromises that bring legal regimes closer to their point of view.

In that case, what should those of us who enjoy the occasional bit of blasphemy do? I’m not sure. But I think we should give some thoughts to where we would definitely want to take a stand and protect a freer speech regime. Academic environments, some parts of the Internet, maybe some specialized media. Maybe what we have to do is to say that we can live with restrictions on public criticism of religion if we have to, provided that

  • There are places where criticism of religion is allowed;
  • Engaging in criticism in such protected environments does not disadvantage participants when they join the wider public realm, aside from possible informal disapproval and censuring;
  • The entry barriers to such free speech environments remains relatively low.

In other words, divide and balkanize the public sphere. The secular liberal ideal of a common public sphere where all reasonable people can interact may have to be shelved for a while. Give the religious what they want—offense-free spaces. But also allow for more secular enclaves that are hospitable to the godless minority.