What Blasphemy Laws in Europe Mean for Free Speech

We think of Europe as secular, progressive, and confidently post-religious. But try criticizing Islam.

Should governments be in the business of protecting people’s feelings? Most Americans, I think would say no. The European Court of Human Rights, however, thinks otherwise. In a historic move last month, the international court affirmed a conviction by a lower court in Vienna against a right-wing speaker who criticized the prophet Muhammad.

Identified only as “E.S.,” the woman, at a seminar in Vienna in 2009, described the founder of Islam as a “pedophile.” According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad was in his fifties when he married his third wife, Aisha, who was six years old at the time. Tradition also says Muhammad waited to consummate their union until the girl was nine.

For describing this relationship in direct though accurate terms, “E.S.” was reported to Austrian authorities, who charged her with “publicly disparaging religious doctrines,” which, believe it or not, is illegal in that country. The Austrian court convicted, describing her statement as “a malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance,” which was “capable of hurting the feelings” of Muslims, and of putting religious peace in Europe at risk.

After a lengthy appeal, the European Court of Human Rights reaffirmed this troubling verdict, ruling that the speaker’s remarks about Muhammad were not only “without factual basis,” but went “beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate,” thereby putting religious peace in jeopardy. So, peace is in jeopardy because Muhammad is critiqued, and not because of how his followers react to the critique?

Set aside for a moment the factual basis of Muhammad’s treatment of his nine-year-old child bride, and the fact that child brides are still shockingly common throughout the Muslim world. The rationale behind these rulings is genuinely scary for another reason.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris