Symbols, Speech, and Security

Elizabeth A. Clark is Associate Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies and Regional Advisor for Europe at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University

I recently had the opportunity to be part of a panel at a conference sponsored by the International Association of Religion Journalists. I was particularly struck by how the difficult challenges journalists face in many parts of the world – prison terms, lawsuits, harassment by displeased religious or civic leaders – paralleled those of religious believers in their countries, particularly religious minorities. This similarity shouldn’t have been surprising. Research has shown a strong correlation between restrictions on religious freedom and decreased access to a large number of other fundamental rights and economic goods, including freedom of speech.[1] As Nobel-prize winning economist Amartya Sen notes, freedoms tend to come as “bundled commodities.”[2] (more…)

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Modern Book-Burning: Protected Speech?

Jane Wise is an Associate Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University

Throughout history, book burning has been a tool wielded by both secular and religious authorities in efforts to suppress minority views perceived as threatening to the prevailing order. The Old Testament recounts King Jehoiakim of Judah burning a scroll dictated by the prophet Jeremiah stating that Babylon would destroy the land. Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang burned books and buried scholars who he believed were subversive to his reign more than two thousand years ago. In 1244 in the streets of Paris, 24 carriage-loads of Jewish religious manuscripts were burned by French law officers, alleging they contained passages blasphemous to Christians. In encounters between Europeans and indigenous American civilizations, Mayan and Aztec books were destroyed in the 1500s. English Roman Catholic abbeys and monasteries were stripped of their manuscripts and books by citizens loyal to the Church of England in the 1600s and burned or destroyed. During the Nazi regime in Europe starting in 1933, the government decreed broad grounds for burning books that acted subversively or struck at the root of German thought, the German home, or the “driving forces” of German people. (more…)

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More Than a Feeling

Elizaveta Gaufman is Assistant Professor of Russian Discourse and Politics at the University of Groningen, Netherlands

On the morning of May 8, 2018, anti-corruption activist Maria Motuznaya’s doorbell rang in Barnaul, Russia. Several police officers came in, searched her apartment, and confiscated her laptop. Among the images that she saved and posted on her Vkontakte social network page, there were several racist and antireligious memes that faulted Russian Orthodox priests for being businessmen and implied that the Church is one of two main challenges that Russia faces (bad roads was the other). Motuznaya faced accusations based on the infamous “extremist” article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code, as well as charges of “insulting religious feelings” from article 148. Even though the outcry about her case led to a partial decriminalization of article 282, which now limits charges to only those who post offensive content more than once a year, it is still important to take a closer look at the political reasoning behind the prosecution of affronted spirituality. (more…)

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