Free Speech Still Under Attack

Free speech is always and everywhere under attack in the world, and as depressing as it is to have to keep pointing that out, I think it’s vital to highlight it when it happens so that this human right is never taken for granted. Unfortunately, these past few weeks have offered a surfeit of examples.

First, there’s India, whose government has quietly issued new rules allowing for the censorship of any internet content deemed “blasphemous”, “hateful” or “disparaging”. Apparently, all it takes is for someone to file a complaint. There’s no mechanism of appeal, and websites created or maintained in other countries aren’t exempted. Considering that India is beset with both Muslim and Hindu mobs that have shown themselves ready to riot over the slightest provocation, it’s not hard to guess what kind of websites will be among the first targets of fundamentalist complaints. Speech which “outrages religious feelings” is already illegal in India, and journalists and publishers have been arrested and charged under this law for speaking their minds, but this attempt to censor the entire Internet is a new and frightening extreme even if it’s certain to fail in practice.

From India to England, where a man has been sentenced to 70 days in jail for burning a Qur’an. The local police labeled this a “hate crime”, and the judge explained: “People are entitled to protest in this country… but [not] in such a way as it will inflame”. Since it “inflames” me to see a nonviolent act of protest punished with imprisonment, regardless of whether or not it was done with racist intent, am I entitled to demand that this judge and these police be sent to jail as well?

Meanwhile, in Italy, the director Nanni Moretti produced a satirical film called Habemus Papam (“We Have a Pope”), which depicts a panic-stricken incompetent thrust into the papacy who seeks psychiatric help to cope with the pressure. The shrieking denunciations and fatwa envy expressed by Catholic hard-liners were to be expected, but what’s more noteworthy is that a Catholic bigot named Bruno Volpe promptly filed a lawsuit against the producers under the Lateran Pact, a treaty ratified by Mussolini’s government that protects the “prestige of the pope”. Yes, let that sink in: Right-wing Catholics are openly using a law passed by fascists to attack free speech!

And for the European trifecta, there’s Spain, where a Madrid court has banned an atheist procession that had been scheduled to coincide with Catholic marches on Easter weekend. The “State Association of Christian Lawyers” (now there’s a pro-theocratic group if ever I heard of one) filed complaints which spurred the government to investigate and, astonishingly, file charges against the atheists, just for seeking permission to march:

Madrid’s local government… has launched legal proceedings against the group Ateos en Lucha [great name! —Ebonmuse] insisting it is ‘ridiculing religion’ and ‘glorifying terrorism’.

Apparently, the official position of the Spanish government is that Roman Catholics own certain dates and all nonbelievers are required to stay indoors and keep quiet. I always thought Spain was a secular country. What on earth is going on there?

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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