Image © Austin Cline
University of Minnesota
So it appears that sharp, pointed, and harsh criticism of religion is a form of harassment, discrimination, or intimidation against adherents of that religion. Isn't that convenient? I wonder if these standards will ever be applied to religion-based critiques of other religions? After all, wouldn't criticism of such critiques constitute another form of harassment and intimidation? That's the sort of circular mess you get into with decisions like Tufts'
Eugene Volokh quotes from the decision:
[A]lthough Tufts students should feel free to engage in speech that others might find offensive and even hurtful, Tufts University’s non-discrimination policy embodies important community standards of behavior that Tufts, as a private institution, has an obligation to uphold. Our campus should be a place where students feel safe, respected, and valued. Freedom of speech should not be an unfettered license to violate the rights of other members of the community, without recourse. ...
[T]he Committee has attempted to strike a balance between protecting the rights of students to exist on campus without being subjected to unreasonable attacks based on their race or religion and protecting the rights of students to publish controversial writings....
So, people have a "right" not to be read or hear criticisms of their religion? Even if we assume that the criticisms are misguided, unreasonable, unfair, and otherwise just very wrong, how can that violate anyone's rights? Since when has it been just to punish anyone for "unreasonable" criticisms of a religion? No one is being punished in this case, fortunately, but the ruling indicates that in the future, violations will lead to "prompt and decisive action."
The MSA [Muslim Student Association] joined the case after the publication of an April 11 item in the Source saying that Islam is a violent religion. "We have to take it seriously," said junior Shirwac Mohamed, the MSA co-chair who will represent the organization at today's hearing. He said that many Muslim students, even those not normally active in MSA, have complained about the item.
"I looked at the article and was flabbergasted," he said. "It's intentionally putting a negative spin on Islam."
Source: Tufts Daily
Oh, my — someone put an intentionally negative spin on Islam! How horrible... wait, since when aren't people allowed to put a negative spin on religion generally, a single religion in particular, or indeed any ideology in existence? Shirwac Mohamed has every right to be flabbergasted, upset, annoyed, offended, etc. The proper response, however, is to respond with his own speech that is more fair, reasonable, and just than the advertisement — not to use his own emotional reaction as a justification for preventing the publication of anything he finds upsetting or blasphemous.
It's difficult to conceive of just how free speech can survive in an atmosphere where blasphemy can be banned as a form of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination. Hey, I feel intimidated in that I can't freely express my views — does that mean that I now have recourse to complain to any authorities? Of course not. It's not "intimidation" to say that I'm wrong about something.
When will we see conservatives complain about a liberal editorial that puts a negative spin on conservatism? When will we see liberals complain about a conservative editorial that puts a negative spin on liberalism? We won't — because while it's generally accepted to put a negative spin on various social, political, and economic ideologies, religion must be protected at all costs. Free speech is to be sacrificed on the religious altar of hurt feelings and self-righteous outrage.
Just to demonstrate that this attitude is not limited to "speech police" on American university campuses, nor is it limited just to Muslims, here's a quote from a recent opinion piece by Cristina Odone, former editor of the Catholic Herald:
In secular Britain, faith-bashing carries far more resonance and risks causing far greater damage. In this country, belief is a minority practice and believers a persecuted lot. The rabid attacks by Dawkins and his camp-followers spur even the most mild-mannered Christian, Muslim or Jew into a hard-line position.
In America, harsh criticism of a religion is merely "intimidation" and "harassment," in Britain, however, it suddenly becomes persecution. I pity the poor Christians elsewhere in the world who really are being persecuted for their beliefs by losing their jobs or even their lives, because Christians in the West like Cristina Odone are so misappropriating the concept that it will lose all meaning. And what about people like gays who are being persecuted by Christians in the West by denying them jobs or housing?
We'll have to come up with a new word for real persecution, which is when you must fear for your livelihood, housing, family, or life, in order to better distinguish it from the faux persecution that "afflicts" Christians and others who don't like being criticized. Thank you, Cristina Odone, Shirwac Mohamed, and other religious believers for helping undermine the principle of free speech by pretending that if your feelings are hurt, that's reason enough to try to silence others.
I wonder how many Christians read the above passage from Odone and agreed, but read about the situation at Tufts and were outraged? Sometimes it takes complete outsiders, like atheists, to recognize that both Christians and Muslims are doing much the same thing — and that both are completely wrong for trying to do it at all. No matter how much they may dislike criticism of their religion, they aren't justified in trying to shut down such criticism by calling it intimidation, harassment, or even persecution.