In New Zealand we seem to have few overt problems with offence to religious sensitivities. There have been issues like the “Virgin in a condom” and the South Park Episode. Brian Tamaki’s Destiny Church occasionally bursts into activity on issues like their demand that New Zealand be recognised as a Christian Nation. I can still remember the protests against screening of that classic film “The Life of Brian.” However, there have not been the big, and sometimes violent, demonstrations observed overseas (as for example around the Danish cartoons, or Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses).
New Zealand’s National Statement on Religious Diversity is non-dogmatic on the issues of freedom of expression and religious sensitivity. The relevant clauses are:
4. THE RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. The right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media are vital for democracy but should be exercised with responsibility.
7. RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES. Debate and disagreement about religious beliefs will occur but must be exercised within the rule of law and without resort to violence.
I am thankful that our society ispretty tolerant. However, I am sure that the conflict between religious sensitivity and freedom of expression is often manifested here in less public ways. I am sure people often do feel offended by statements in our media and theatres from time to time. I’m also sure some individuals would like to somehow legally limit our freedoms to prevent their feelings offense. Perhaps some people would like to interpret the above clauses so that “should be exercised with responsibility” and “within the rule of law” could prevent true freedom of expression. And many people (religious and no-religious) do not accept the above national statement anyway.
Are you offended
Do you find some things in the public media offend you?
If so, would you like to limit freedom of expression to prevent such offensive presentations?
I know there are things that offend me. I am personally offended by unwarranted representations of men ( as in “all men are rapists,” etc.). I am offended by misrepresentations of my beliefs (as when unwarranted characterisations of atheists are presented). But this doesn’t lead me to suggest any limitations on freedom of expression.
The occasional personal offense is the price we pay for living in a free and pluralistic society. I believe that this is as true for offense against religious (and non-religious) sensitivities as it is for offense against any other belief. Religious “blasphemy” should have no more importance than any other offence.
The UK is currently going through the process of removing its laws against blasphemy. The conflict between freedom of expression and religious offence has led to some major conflicts in that country. In 2005 Channel 4 screened Dispatches: Holy Offensive which describes conflicts around Behzti (Dishonour), a play by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (protested by Sikhs) and Jerry Springer: The Opera (protested by Christians) . The documentary is very well balanced – giving both sides of the conflict so the viewers can come to their own conclusions.
It’s well worth watching and I link to it below. The issues are relevant to us in New Zealand.
Holy Offensive Part 1 (10 min)
Holy Offensive Part 2 (10 min)
Holy Offensive Part 3 (10 min)
Holy Offensive Part 4 (10 min)
Holy Offensive Part 5 (10 min)
Beyond Tolerance – Toward Understanding and Respect
Secular alternatives to religious communities
Atheism and religious diversity I: Diversity in New Zealand
Atheism and religious diversity II: A personal perspective
Atheism and religious diversity III: Conflict between science and religion
Atheism and religious diversity IV: Values, morality and spirituality
Human rights for the non-religious