(Anti)Religious Speech and State Security Measures

A Conversation, organized by Dmytro Vovk
of the Center for Rule of Law and Religion Studies, Yaroslav Mudryi National Law University (Ukraine)

In the realm of religion, freedom of expression may manifest itself as freedom of religious expression and freedom to discuss and criticize religion, its virtues and vices, and its role in society. Both freedoms are essential for democratic states. Freedom of religious expression is crucial for people of faith as it enables worshiping and sharing beliefs, proselytizing, promoting religious values, and enriching public discourse with religious perspectives. On the other hand, in pluralistic societies religion should not be immune from criticism, even strong criticism that targets religious dogmas, manifestations, or believers’ way of life.

But freedom of religious speech and freedom to criticize religion are not absolute. International law prohibits advocating hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence (Art. 20 of ICCPR). At national levels, limitations vary from broad protection of both religious and anti-religious speech under the First Amendment in the U.S., including cases of quite harsh criticism towards religions as social institutions and as specific religious groups, to more intrusive European standards and to severe restrictions imposed by states where blasphemy or offending religious feelings are a matter of criminal law.

These limitations are often determined by national and public security concerns based on a state’s aims to ensure peaceful coexistence of different religions, to guarantee “spiritual security,” and to protect an established religion, national identity at large, and traditional moral values. States in different parts of the world implement counter-extremist legislation, which sometimes targets not only violent actions or incitement to discrimination, hostility, or violence, but also expression of religious views, non-coercive conversion, and the production, storage, and dissemination of religious literature.

In this series of blog posts, we continue discussing religious freedom and security, begun in the previous conversation inspired by the recently released OSCE/ODIHR Freedom of Religion or Belief and Security Policy Guidance (here), focusing on both state security measures that restrict or eliminate religious and antireligious expression as well as the role of the state in preventing and counteracting religious hate speech.

Elizabeth A. Clark, Associate Director for BYU Law School’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, explores the linkage among religious symbols, speech and security. She shows why religious symbols are so important and specific forms of individual self-expression and what security-related arguments states employ for (often excessive and disproportionate) interference with this aspect of religious freedom.

Jane Wise, Associate Director for BYU Law School’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, discusses Quran-burning and aims to understand whether the state, under the US First Amendment, has any power to counteract this kind of expression.

Elizaveta Gaufman from the University of Groningen analyzes the concept of “offended religious feelings” in the context of the Pussy Riot case and a more recent case concerning a Russian anti-corruption activist prosecuted by the state for posting an anti-religious meme on social media.

Maria Kravchenko, an expert with the Moscow-based SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, addresses the case of the Faizrakhamanists, a Muslim sect, and shows how Russia’s counter-extremist legal framework, when applied to activities that should be prosecuted under ordinary criminal law, could lead to disproportionate interference into religious freedom, including bans on religious literature or punishment of believers for religious meetings.

See the links to the individual posts, below: