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Austin Cline

Free Speech Opponent Elected to Florida ACLU Board

By March 23, 2006

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Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was recently elected as an "at large" member of the Florida ACLU's board of directors. Parvez Ahmed is an opponent of free speech when it involves speech which he doesn't like. Have the members of Florida's ACLU gone completely out of their minds?

According to The Counterterrorism Blog, Parvez Ahmed gave a speech at a CAIR-sponsored event on February 16 in which he addressed the Danish cartoon controversy:

“I think the next steps would be to broaden the scope of anti-hate laws and even contemplate about passing blasphemy laws, because blasphemy with such sacred icons, like the Prophet Muhammad, like the Koran, or the cross, or other religious symbols … So governments, legislatures, international bodies … must contemplate about what are the ways in which an anti-blasphemy law can be passed that can protect the right to exercise freedom of religion.”

Assuming that the above quote is accurate (I’ve not found any original documents showing it, but it’s consistent with statements and positions taken by CAIR people in the past), there are several important points which need to be made here:

1. Anti-blasphemy laws do not protect anyone’s right to exercise freedom of religion. No matter how much I may engage in blasphemy, others’ ability to freely exercise their religion freely is unaffected. Anti-blasphemy laws protect religious believers’ feelings, but religious freedom doesn’t cover freedom from criticism or hurt feelings.

2. No one who supports criminal or civil penalties for blasphemy is a supporter of free speech. Although there may be room for debate among ACLU members over the appropriateness of blasphemy, there is no room for debate over the legality of blasphemy. An ACLU member supporting criminal and/or civil penalties for blasphemy is no different from one supporting criminal or civil penalties for racist statements, Nazi statements, or religious statements.

3. This is, according to all evidence I have seen, CAIR’s official position — which means that CAIR officially opposes the freedom of speech and expression which is one of the foundations of a free, liberal society. From this, we might conclude that, at best, CAIR doesn’t fully support the existence of a free, liberal society — at least not when that freedom and liberalism results in speech that they dislike.

4. Anti-blasphemy laws are a tool in the establishment of religious supremacy or, even worse, theocracy. Anti-blasphemy laws have been supported by religious conservatives of all faiths — sometimes in stronger versions, sometimes in weaker versions. Not even weak anti-blasphemy laws are acceptable, however, because the free speech and expression of all cannot be restricted by the religious sensibilities of some. The right to free expression covers the right to be offensive and rude, otherwise there is no real right to free expression.

I’m sorely tempted to withhold financial support of the ACLU in the future because of this; if I had the misfortune of living in Florida, I definitely would.


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