Tag Archives: censorship

Censorship of religious criticism is a bad thing

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As we see Middle East strife heat up, with a historical link to religious differences, and the Prophet Mohamed cartoon riots still fresh in our collective memory, there has been a recent attempt by some Islamic countries to censor any religious criticism.

Humanist Network News reported on July 12 that at the June 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, delegates from Bangladesh, Lebanon, Sudan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates called for limits on freedom of speech regarding religion. It was in response to the publishing of cartoons in a Danish newspaper last year that sparked several riots in Islamic countries.

The article said:

Considering the publishing of the Danish cartoons criticizing Islam “a blatant attempt to inflame religious hatred,” they called for mechanisms to curb criticism of religion by claiming that criticism of religion is the same as incitement to religious hatred.

In other words, they want most, if not all, criticism of religion to stop.

Religious Criticism Is Not Religious Hatred

In response at this attempt to censor speech, Roy Brown, head of the International Humanist and Ethical Union delegation to the UN in Geneva, said in a statement:

“The right to question religion and to freely express one’s views on religious matters is a human right. Human beings have human rights, religions do not. This Council has a solemn duty to protect people — not ideas, religions, customs, beliefs or traditional practices, especially when they are used as justification for the abuse of human rights. It is the believer, not the belief, that must be protected.”

On June 30th, the Council asked the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, to see if material like the Danish cartoons was religious hatred.

In a follow up article on July 19th, Freedom of Speech and the Harm Principle, Ishtiag Ahmed makes a distinction between physical harm – where someone is acted on violently because of their beliefs – and hurt feelings. Ahmed points out that the historical background of freedom of speech always stopped at physical harm as well as libel and slander. He makes a point concerning the thoughts of John Mill in his book “On Liberty”:

Mill’s chain of reasoning leads him to assert that freedom is necessary to know the truth. If we suppress an opinion, it is possible that it turns out to be true. To assume otherwise is to assume that we are infallible — something which certainly is not true. Moreover, even if an opinion is false, it might still contain some truth. Consequently, given that it is unlikely even for a generally “true” account to be without fault, by listening to other opinions and accounts we get closer to a “total” truth. He goes on to argue that even if the true account already is considered to be “total truth,” it still has to be criticized or challenged, because only by defending an account against criticism or challenge are we able to understand why it is a true account, instead of just accepting uncritically that it is.

Freedom of Speech and the Harm Principle

Religious believers may not like having their beliefs questioned – and I doubt any of them feel good about it – but censoring religious criticism doesn’t lead to understanding and will continue to lead us to more strife like we are seeing in Lebanon.

Borders didn’t ban conservative magazine that also published Danish cartoons

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On March 29th it was reported that the Borders bookstore chain had decided not to stock the April/May issue of the “Free Inquiry” magazine. (see: How ironic: Bookstore bans “Free Inquiry”)

The chain claimed it was concerned about the safety of their customers because the issue of the magazine would include a selection of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that had been published in a Danish newspaper back in September. The cartoons were the focal point of many protests by Muslims around the world and in some cases the protests became violent with the burning of the Danish Embassy in Syria.

I sent an e-mail to the company to complain and they responded with their same line:

“Borders is committed to our customers’ right to choose what to read and what to buy and to the First Amendment right of Free Inquiry to publish the cartoons. In this particular case, we decided not to stock this issue in our stores because we place a priority on the safety and security of our customers and our employees. We believe that carrying this issue presented a challenge to that priority.”

We can agree to disagree. They can choose what they sell and I can choose not to patronize a store that censors a magazine before reading it.

I would like to leave it at that but then while surfing the net this weekend I came across a blog that reported that back in February, the conservative magazine “The Weekly Standard” published an article on the cartoons AND published the cartoons. (I didn’t save the link to the blog – sorry)

I decided to see for myself if The Weekly Standard did publish and article and the cartoons in February. I donned my HazMat suit and swam into the lake of conservatism and sure enough there it was:

Oh, the Anguish!
The cartoon jihad is phony.
by William Kristol
02/20/2006, Volume 011, Issue 22

“U.N., E.U. and Muslims link in call to curb protests,” read the Financial Times headline last week. A “U.N.-brokered statement,” the paper reported, was issued “in an effort to curb days of protests, some violent some peaceful, at the publication and republication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. ‘The anguish in the Muslim world at the publication of the offensive caricatures is shared by all individuals and communities who recognise the sensitivity of deeply held religious belief,'” the statement said.

Oh, the anguish! And why not? You remember–don’t you?–the wave of bloody pogroms against Muslims living in Denmark following the Jyllands-Posten’s publication, on September 30, 2005, of 12 cartoons depicting (in most cases) the prophet Muhammad. (The newspaper was testing freedom of speech in Denmark, and challenging “the self-censorship which rules large parts of the Western world.”)

Oh, the Anguish! (02/20/2006)

And that article had a huge picture of the Danish newspaper’s cartoon page that was used to cause so much rioting.

The question then becomes – Does Borders stock “The Weekly Standard” and if so then their claim to be protecting the safety and security of customers and employees is a PR stunt. Appearing to ban a magazine that holds “offensive” material makes Borders look good while not looking bad on the balance sheet. I’m sure “The Weekly Standard” sells a lot more than “Free Inquiry” not to mention the less chance of a major political cock up had they banned a major conservative magazine.

How does one gain proof? I decided to call my local stores and find out.

In just a few minutes the stores reported they carried “The Weekly Standard”.

Now my point has been proven. If Borders applied their “security concern” consistently then I would not have a problem, but as I found out they don’t since we can assume they didn’t ban the February 20th issue of “The Weekly Standard” (I didn’t hear that they did)

If you would like to share your thoughts with Borders, call your local store and complain or send a letter or e-mail to their corporate headquarters with info found on their contact page

How ironic: Bookstore bans “Free Inquiry”

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The Associated Press reported today (03/29/06) that the company that operates Borders and Waldenbooks stores will not stock the April-May issue of Free Inquiry magazine because it contains cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that provoked deadly protests among Muslims in several countries a couple months ago.

Free Inquiry is the official magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH) based in Amherst, NY. It announced that it would publish some of the cartoons that sparked violence from Denmark to Syria by offended Muslims. In their press release they said they would publish them because the major magazines in the US (Time, Newsweek, etc…) refuses to publish them.

Borders said:

“For us, the safety and security of our customers and employees is a top priority, and we believe that carrying this issue could challenge that priority,” Borders spokeswoman Beth Bingham said Wednesday.

Bingham said the decision was made before the magazine arrived at the chain’s stores. The company operates more than 475 Borders and 650 Waldenbooks stores in the United States, though not all regularly carry the magazine.

Borders won’t carry magazine containing prophet cartoons

So the chain decided BEFORE seeing the magazine… interesting.

According to the AP report the cartoons are accompanied by three articles: one by editor Tom Flynn tracing the controversy and explaining the decision; a commentary by R. Joseph Hoffmann, director of the Council for Secular Humanism’s Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion; and a historic look at representations of the prophet.

Paul Kurtz, editor-in-chief said:

“What is at stake is the precious right of freedom of expression. Cartoons often provide an important form of political satire … To refuse to distribute a publication because of fear of vigilante violence is to undermine freedom of press _ so vital for our democracy.”

To be honest, Borders goofed. Free Inquiry is a small publication compared to others like Maxim, Stuff, and People. In fact I have gone to the two stores in my area and have yet to find an issue of Free Inquiry when I wanted to buy it.

But I get it. They can pander to those customers who might not have appreciated the cartoons in context and it doesn’t hurt them in the balance sheet. However, censoring the magazine is going to create more of a scene than just letting it sit silently on the shelf collecting dust before being shipped back to the distributor. The move also brings fresh free publicity for CSH.

Now if they decided not to stock Dr. Phil’s latest fake psychology book then all hell would break loose – or better what if they ban the Holy Bible – with its tales of incest, sex, violence, and tribulation.

So Borders will stick to its pandering while I cross them off my future shopping list for books.

Their loss.

*Side Note*

While I am against Borders censoring Free Inquiry, I was not pleased that CSH planned to publish the cartoons. I felt it was a self-serving publicity stunt. However, after learning about the 3 articles that will put the controversy in context and from a secular humanist POV, I feel better about them doing it.

Dr. James Dobson calls for boycott of dead woman

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The Internet is great level playing field for the expression of different points of view. In a matter of minutes someone with a gripe or praise can broadcast to a potential audience of billions. No single corporate entity owns the Internet and efforts to censor its content either have been struck down by the courts or those methods simply haven’t worked.

Those of us doing the broadcasting have almost unlimited freedom to say what we want how we want. But there is also a danger in that freedom. There is the danger of publicly showing how ignorant we are.

I post quite frequently here but I might spend a couple of hours on each post before showing it to the world. Most of that time is spent checking my facts and crafting the post to convey my point with the hope of persuading you.

For example, a recent post talked about a local minister and the electioneering he is doing for a GOP candidate for Ohio governor. In the post I mention the value of his church’s property and land with a link to the Franklin County Auditor’s property records site where I got the info.

An earlier draft mentioned that the church owned the minister’s house but I wasn’t sure that was true – it was something I heard. I looked up the info in the property records in the county he lives in and found he owns his own home. I deleted the comment about the church owning the house since I confirmed it wasn’t true. I simply won’t say something without trying to back it up.

I mentioned that a danger of the freedom of expression is showing everyone how ignorant we are especially when one fails to check even the simplest of facts.

Blogger Rob Hood shows his ignorance in his article published on the American Daily site. His article, that speaks out against religious liberty and tolerance, is chock full of many lies, some of them downright hilarious.

As we speak, liberal God hating groups are trying to silence Christianity. The same communists who took prayer out of school are now trying to take the name of Jesus out of the public arena. They are outraged when a politician even mentions the word of Jesus, even in a private meeting or prayer. Now these crazed madmen are wanting radio waves that whisper the name of our Lord and savior silenced. Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is leading a boycott against Madeline O’Hare, a vowed atheist who alone is responsible for the discontinuation of the CBS show “Touched by an Angel” because it mentioned God too much. She is also responsible for taking prayer out of the schools. It’s almost as if she has joined the Taliban on her conquest to “kill the infidels” of Christianity. She is pushing for a FCC ruling to pave the way to stop the mention of Jesus on public airwaves and is using the age old “it offends people who don’t believe” sentence. The best thing she can do is change the channel. I say if Christians have to put up with watching vulgar filth and garbage on television, then she should have to listen to the word of God in return. It’s only fair in a democracy that we share both sides eh?

The War Looms On

Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is leading a boycott against Madeline O’Hare, a vowed atheist who alone is responsible for the discontinuation of the CBS show “Touched by an Angel” because it mentioned God too much?

I’m assuming he is writing about Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the prime litigant in the famous Murray V. Curlett (1963) US Supreme Court case and founder of American Atheists.

Murray V. Curlett helped end the practice of having teachers or other school officials coordinate and even lead students in classroom prayer, creating a government endorsement of a particular religion, and religion in general. It was one of three cases decided around the same time that forced government and its agents (like teachers) to respect and enforce the separation of church and state. Her case helped protect religious liberty by getting government out of the religious cheerleading business. It didn’t take prayer out of the schools.

Now it is plausible that Dobson would call for a boycott against O’Hair, but is it true?

Had Mr. Hood done some basic fact checking he would know that O’Hair disappeared, along with son Jon and adopted daughter Robin in 1995. Two bodies were found in 2001 and one of the men suspected of their murder was convicted. Authorities found they had died in 1995, probably shortly after being kidnapped.

For more info check here Madalyn Murray O’Hair and The Murray O’Hair Family

The TV show “Touched by an Angel”, about the adventures of 4 angels amongst us mortals, ran from 1994 to 2003. CBS canceled the show because of ratings and demographics. At the time, experts in the industry felt CBS’ demographics skewed too old and in an effort to appeal to a younger audience they canceled “Touched by an Angel”. It was replaced by the show “Joan of Arcadia” about a teen who speaks to God. If “Touched by an Angel” had been canceled for mentioning God then why did the network replace it with a show that also had God as major part of the show?

Mr. Hood’s comments about O’Hair pushing the FCC to ban Jesus from the public airwaves is based on a classic hoax that many religious conservatives have fallen for since the Internet became popular in the early 1990’s.

The comments most likely refer to a claim that O’Hair filed a petition with the FCC labeled RM-2493.

These statements did not stop the concern of some citizens. Messages have been spread on the internet stating that a ban on religious broadcasting is either being actively considered or has been recently enacted. Variations of this message state that atheists are circulating a petition in support of the ban; that religious people are circulating a petition to oppose the ban; that Madalyn Murray O’Hair is responsible for the ban (O’Hair had no association with RM-2493 and died in 1995); that Dr James Dobson is leading opposition to the ban (Dobson has stated he is aware there is no proposed ban and has not led any efforts in regard to it); and that the ban was responsible for the cancellation of the television series Touched by an Angel. The FCC states that is has received over 30,000,000 pieces of mail regarding this issue since 1975.

RM-2493 and also Petition to Ban Religious Broadcasting

Even James Dobson denies Mr. Hood’s comments are true in this response I’ve received an e-mail about prayers and signatures needed to stop Petition 2493. Is it true?

Yes, Mr. Hood’s essay is hilarious as it shows his ignorance but it also shows the hypocracy of religious conservatives in response to what they think is offensive.

They cry and complain about Atheists or “communists” trying to remove God from the airwaves. They claim it is some conspiracy plot to force Christianity out of the public. Yet they see nothing wrong when they organize to try and force a TV network to remove a program they feel is offensive to religious people.

“The Book of Daniel” was a recent TV series about a drug addicted Episcopal priest and his dysfunctional family. The priest had conversations with Jesus in some odd places like his car while driving some where in hopes of helping him deal with is family issues.

James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Donald E. Wildmon’s American Family Association helped lead an effort to have the show pulled from the airwaves by having their members complain to the advertisers on the show.

Along those same lines, Bob Waliszewski with Focus on the Family offered his take after previewing the pilot and one additional episode. Waliszewski is blunt about how he feels about the program.

“I find [The Book of Daniel] extremely repulsive in its portrayal of Jesus Christ and intentionally offensive in its flippant attitude toward behaviors almost universally agreed upon as unhealthy to society, morally bankrupt, and — dare I say it — sinful,” he says in a recent press release.

But the Focus on the Family spokesman says he most concerned about the “sardonic” depiction of the character of Jesus on the show, who he says is portrayed as a “wimpy, white-robed visitor who cares little about evil, addictions, and perversity.” Waliszewski worries how people unfamiliar with the real Jesus found in Scripture will respond.

“The ‘Jesus’ [in the program] is a long way from the holy compassionate Third Person of the Trinity who created the universe, then found the sin-problems of mankind so egregious that He gave His very life sacrificially to bring redemption,” he shares. “Viewers with limited knowledge of the Bible are going to be asking themselves, why was He crucified?”

Basically, says Waliszewski, Daniel’s Jesus “winks at the behaviors the genuine Jesus was crucified to save us from.” And that, he adds, is indicative of the program’s “callous attitude” towards anything Christian.

Program’s Sarcastic Portrayal of the Savior Miffs Ministry Spokesman

It would seem that non-believers don’t have the power that religious conservatives do to have TV shows canceled.

It is more likely that religious conservatives of all stripes want to suppress and censor any expressions they find offensive while seculars, like myself, like to take personal responsibly and not watch an offensive show. We really don’t want a special interest group or the government telling us what we can or can’t watch. That would be un-American.