Officials recommend the Netherlands scrap anti-blasphemy law

An anti-blasphemy law in the Netherlands which dates back to the 1930s, is being called outdated and a law of favoritism, and officials are recommending that it be replaced by an anti-discrimination law instead. Officials from several Dutch parties argued that the anti-blasphemy law offers unfair protection for religious groups, but that an anti-discrimination law would protect all groups evenly. In scrapping the anti-blasphemy law, the cabinet is now making moves to strengthen anti-discrimination laws against all backgrounds, and taking the religious component out of being implicit in the equation.

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Berlin’s Muslim leaders to learn about German life

Berlin senators and members of the Muslim community launched a scheme this week to teach imams more about German society and boost dialogue between religious and non-religious groups.
About 25 imams from all over the capital have registered to join the pilot program including German history and politics lessons, with the aim of becoming better informed about the ways of life in the country they live in. “In today’s world, imams are no longer just asked for advice on religious issues,” Berlin Integration Commissioner Guenter Piening told Reuters. “They are also quizzed about mundane, everyday life,” said Piening, adding part of the course involved visiting the Bundestag lower house of parliament and then discussing Germany’s democratic political system. Josie Cox reports.

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Secularisation & Secularism

Secularisation – the process of a dividing the realms of politics and religion – has been influencing national and worldly affairs for several hundred years. The idea of the desirability of such a division – secularism – is nowadays a given backdrop for public policy issues regarding education, family, gender, media, migration, personal integrity and freedom, reproduction and sexuality. But globalisation and multicultural trends, as well as claims from religious groups for increased political influence or autonomy and the uncertain and varying responses to these from society, have made us aware that the secularist ideal has been realized through the process of secularisation in radically different ways in different settings. As a result, an identity crisis is presently afflicting secular societies. It is no longer as clear what secularism is supposed to amount to, why secularisation is desirable and where its proper limits are. To investigate questions about this is the focus of a newly initiated multidisciplinary research theme at the University of Gothenburg.

Speakers

  • ABDULLAHI AN-NA’IM, Human Rights Law, Emory University
  • KENT GREENAWALT, Law, Columbia University
  • BRIAN PALMER, Anthropology & Religion, Uppsala University & University of Gothenburg
  • PAUL WEITHMAN, Philosophy, University of Notre Dame
  • LINDA WOODHEAD, Religious Studies, Lancaster University

Venue

Registration

The conference is open to the public and free of charge. Registration is required for attendance.

Contact & Information

Website

Email: secularism@filosofi.gu.se

Europe Struggles To Balance Free Speech, Limits On Expression

By C_sar G. Soriano LONDON – Outspoken London Mayor Ken Livingstone may not be reporting for work Wednesday at the city’s egg-shaped town hall on the banks of the River Thames. Unless he appeals successfully, he will sit at home, serving a four-week suspension for comparing a Jewish journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. The mayor – a veteran of many foot-in-mouth controversies – had argued he was exercising his freedom of speech. The Adjudication Panel for England ruled against him Friday and found the mayor guilty of bringing his office into “disrepute.” Livingstone has refused to apologize. The suspension “strikes at the heart of democracy,” he said. Newspapers from several countries have asserted a right to free expression – and inflamed Muslims worldwide – by publishing Danish cartoons that depict the prophet Mohammed. At the same time, European courts, lawmakers and religious groups are pressing for limits on expression. In recent speech cases: _An Austrian court last week sentenced British historian David Irving to three years in prison for denying the Holocaust in a 1989 speech. Prosecutors are asking the court to lengthen Irving’s sentence. Ten European countries, along with Israel, have laws against denying the massacre of Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II. _A German court on Thursday convicted a 61-year-old businessman of insulting Islam by selling toilet paper printed with the word “Quran,” the name of Islam’s holy book. The man, identified in court papers only as Manfred van H., also referred to the Quran as a “cookbook for terrorists.” _Britain’s House of Commons on Feb. 15 approved a ban on speech and writing that glorifies terrorism. _Nick Griffin, leader of the right-wing British National Party, was acquitted Feb. 2 on charges of using hate speech for describing Islam as a “vicious, wicked faith” and comparing immigrants to cockroaches. _British lawmakers on Feb. 1 rejected Prime Minister Tony Blair’s proposed law against insulting religions. Among the critics of the bill was comic actor Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr. Bean on TV and in movies. He argued that the bill would have curtailed the work of entertainers. _A British tour of the hit musical Jerry Springer – The Opera was delayed for a year and has suffered poor ticket sales, producers say. A religious group, Christian Voice, has organized protests against the tour. Christian Voice says the play is blasphemous and an insult to Christians because it contains foul language and depicts Christ as a guest on a daytime TV show. Europe’s view of freedom of expression is “less absolute” than the view in the USA, where First Amendment speech guarantees are broad, says Daniel Simons, legal officer for Article 19, a London-based human rights group that defends freedom of expression around the world. “Americans are more distrustful of the government and concerned about government limitations on freedom of speech,” Simons said. “Europeans feel freedom of expression is one value, but respect the legitimate need to protect the feelings of other people. I suppose the experience of World War II has led people to be more concerned about racism.” In an interview with the BBC earlier this month, Agnes Callamard, executive director of Article 19, said free speech guarantees put the United States at one extreme and governments that practice censorship at the other. Europe is in the middle, she said. In most European countries, the state “attempts to strike a balance between the right to freedom of speech and the right to equality, and therefore freedom from discrimination,” Callamard said. Many of the objections to “anything goes” free speech have been raised by religious groups. “With freedom of speech comes responsibility. And one has to be sensitive to the people within a society, so there are limits to what can be said,” said Jon Benjamin of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the group that brought the complaint against Livingstone. Even Amnesty International, a longtime advocate of freedom of expression, has called for laws that prohibit “hate speech” following the Danish cartoon flap. Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the London-based National Secular Society, says he is worried about the chilling effect of limiting speech, especially when it is the result of pressure from religious groups. Wood’s group has lobbied against government restrictions on speech. “Most of the objections are coming from Islam,” he said. “It’s a very worrying development because the freedom of speech is an enlightenment value that Europe must cling to. In the end, it’s the best defense against religious extremism and (best way) to resolve questions in a peaceful way.”

French Minister: ‘Mosques Need State Funding’

PARIS: France’s Finance Minister, a presidential hopeful, says mosques need state funding and it is time to modernise a century-old law banning financing for religious groups, newspapers report. Nicolas Sarkozy, in a new book that hit the shelves yesterday, says extremism is festering in underground mosques and Islamic groups do not have money to build houses of worship, according to excerpts published in French newspapers. “What is dangerous is not minarets, but caves and garages that keep clandestine religious groups hidden,” he says in the book, The Republic, Religions, Hope, Le Monde newspaper reported. Unlike Jewish and Christian groups with a history in France, Islam is relatively new here and needs a helping hand, he says.