Should Europe introduce a right to blasphemy?

Alain Bouldoires talks to Timothy Garton Ash about the survival of blasphemy laws in Europe, and calls for a ‘right to blaspheme’.

French academic Alain Bouldoires describes how he found in his research on fifteen European countries that Ireland is among the strictest when it comes to blasphemy laws (1:13 min). there is a group of countries that for historical reasons still consider blasphemy a serious offence, including Italy, Poland, Spain and Portugal. Germany is an interesting case, which Bouldoires considers repressive  for its laws that could in theory stipulate months in prison (3:20 min). In Most countries the laws refer to religion without discrimination – except for England where blasphemy laws refer specifically to Christianity (4:25min).

The justification is public order, rather than the defence of religion or religious freedom (4:52min). Ultimately there is a balance between the freedom to practice religion and the defence of the individual’s right to freedom of expression with respect to ideas and doctrines, whether religious or philosophical.

Boudoires points out that is it difficult to define what is sacred for someone, and to protect everything anyone might consider sacred is impossible (6:14min). There is a clear difference between criticising a religion or doctrine and a personal attack on the believer – which would be defamation (7:23min).

While there are differences among country groups in theory and in law, in practice all have become more secular (8:20min). If we ask ourselves, what is suitable for our democratic model, Bouldoires would like to see a move in Europe to a right to blaspheme (9:30).

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Free Speech Debate is a research project of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College in the University of Oxford.

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