Global Coalition Goes Way Too Far in Respect for ‘All Religions’

Wait. We have to “respect” this guy?

Yesterday, in response to the violence and protests around the Muslim world, a coalition of the world’s regional international organizations released a joint statement (PDF) that they called a message of “peace and tolerance.” The statement, released by the European Union, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League, and the African Union expressed “anguish” for Muslims offended by the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” video and unsurprisingly straddled the line between respecting free expression and a wish to curtail some kinds of speech:

We are united in our belief in the fundamental importance of religious freedom and tolerance. We condemn any advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to hostility and violence.

Well, isn’t that nice? That and $200 and a two-year contract will get you a new iPhone — it doesn’t amount to much, and nowhere in this sentimental document does the coalition call for any specific action to address this situation. And that’s a good thing, considering the rise in support for international anti-blasphemy laws, particularly coming from the OIC.

The closest it does come is in a promise to pursue “further measures” in accordance with UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18, which is a mushy resolution that does a lot of “deploring” and “noting with deep concern” over forms of expression meant specifically to inflame religious hatred. What are those further measures? Who knows?

The part of this statement that troubled me the most, however, had less to do with law and restrictions than with a professed mindset of automatic, blanket acceptance of any supernatural inclination. Dig this:

We share a profound respect for all religions… While fully recognizing freedom of expression, we believe in the importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to.

Wait, what? All religions, you say? All prophets? A profound respect, you say? For one thing, I doubt very much that, say, the more hardline members of the OIC feel any measure of “respect” for, say, Mormonism, nor do I think the literalist Catholics in the African or European Unions think that there’s a lot to be said for Buddhism. You get my point.

But more importantly, this is a statement from a huge portion of the organized global community saying that any magical thinking a person might engage in is worthy of “profound respect.”

I know that we, as nonbelievers, are actively trying to take the air out of the idea that the the mainstream religions are worthy of the forcefield around them that forbids criticism or mockery of them, but I always kind of thought there was at least an unspoken understanding even among mainstream believers that there are some religious ideas that were just too wackadoodle or dangerous to be taken seriously or granted “respect.” What about the child-torturing believers in witchcraft and sorcery? The cult leader “prophets” who insist that they are the next messiah, abusing and enslaving followers? And come on, Scientology? You expect me to believe these guys have profound respect for Scientology?

Is this really where they want to go?

Diplomacy is hard, I get it. This is a tinderbox situation and people are getting killed. These groups want to be as ingratiating as possible to quell the rage. But it’s too far. We really can’t afford to have the international community embracing the worst and most damaging strains of even mainstream religion, let alone “all” religions and all the weirdness and insanity that goes along with them. This statement is a step backwards in the kind of work our movement is trying to do.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • Holytape

    It always annoys me when the major religions say to respect all other religions, when the central tenet in their religion is that not only are the followers of other religions wrong, but they are so wrong that they deserve an eternity of torture.    


  • David McNerney

    I have to take issue with your criticism of “UN Human Rights Council resolution 16/18″.

    It might well be a pointless document, but the “deploring” and “noting with deep concern” is for discrimination against individuals of religious belief.  People who have religious belief should not be discriminated against and this is a valid point.

    In that resolution (and I may be wrong) all I see is criticism of discrimination against people because of their beliefs.  I don’t see calls to suppress criticism of religious belief itself or suggesting that such belief is entitled to protection or even that followers of such beliefs are entitled “not to be offended”.

  • Chris Irwin Davis

    Translation: “We have no legal authority to enact global anti-blasphemy laws. Please don’t kills us.”

  • Chris Irwin Davis

    Why include the language “importance of respecting all prophets, regardless of which religion they belong to” if not to specifically entitle followers of such beliefs to “not to be offended”? Criticism of a mythical figure is not discriminating against a person.

  • TiltedHorizon


    I work in NYC, I pass by demonstrations by the Tea Party calling me unpatriotic, socialist, communist, and anything else they think hurts my feelings. I pass by White Power demonstrations calling me a spic, declaring that I leave their country. I pass by demonstrations by the Black Hebrew Israelites calling me a white devil, worthy only of being extinguished. The fact that I can ignore it and move on with my life is the true embodiment of tolerance. The Global Coalition appears to want silence, a world where a given subject is off limits to criticism, resulting in a stagnation of progress.

    Fuck the  Global Coalition, all should be free to openly criticize that which they don’t agree with. The only way to discover if one is wrong or right in their opinions is to express them. This myopic solution means the opportunity to change minds is lost.

  • TheExpatriate700

    I have to agree with David McNerney. Frankly, I think that some atheists take criticism of religion over the line into outright bigotry, to a point that it’s getting embarrassing. As long as they don’t step over the line into promoting blasphemy laws, I have no problem with it, and frankly have to wonder about someone who does.

  • Nathan Mclean

    They believe in bullshit fairy tales and they should be treated as such! If you can’t  take a joke get out of the mosque/church/temple. These people are delusional and potentially dangerous. They must not be placed above criticism! It is a recipe for disaster.

  • The Other Weirdo

     Actually, these sorts of documents specifically entitle the followers of such believes to “be offended with impunity”.

  • David McNerney

    That’s not the point of the resolution.

    No, people who riot over other’s free expression should be treated as lawless rioters and locked up.

    No, religious ideas do not deserve one ounce of respect.

    But, yes, you have to have respect to people’s right to hold those belief.  For example, Francis Collins holds completely stupid beliefs – but he is also a brilliant scientist.  Respect the man, ridicule the belief.

  • David McNerney

    I’m referring to the UN resolution, not the joint statement. The joint statement is horseshit.

  • janiceintoronto

    ” What about the child-torturing believers in witchcraft and sorcery?”

    Oh my. The Wiccans are going to have something to say about that…

  • David McNerney

    Whoa! You don’t agree with me.

    As far as I’m concerned there are no limits in how far you can criticise religion – as long as you are attacking the religion (which has no right to respect) and not the person (who does have a right to respect).  

    Bigotry on either side I’m against - but that’s a different thing.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    So we should respect the right of someone to hold the belief that others are abominations and should be stoned to death?

  • shakaka

    I thought the same thing, if your going to slag off a belief at least get the facts right. It happens in Christian religions when they think a child is possessed and in SOME African voodoo (I think) type religions. But NOT in western witchcraft, I looked into it years ago. I looked into loads of religions because I find them interesting. What makes people believe when there is so much evidence to disprove the belief?
    People can feel offended if they want to, but people should have the right to criticize.
    Ridicule is different than criticism though, making someone feel small only closes them off to open discussion. A bit if banter can make someone think, but some people take it to far.

  • Zob

    Actually, voodoo is a peaceful religion that was slandered by Christian missionaries; it was accused of things like association with necromancy and cursing people by putting pins into dolls, all practices that originated in European witchcraft.

  • TheExpatriate700

    Sorry, I thought you were intelligent, when you just split meaningless hairs in your comments.

  • Philo Vaihinger

    Where are the international organizations floating resolutions demanding Muslim governments and religious authorities act to diminish the hatred their people are forever acting out with murder and violence?

    Nothing provokes hatred of Islam like the disgusting, arrogant, entitled violence of the Muslims.

    And even so the hatred others feel for Islam obviously is no match for the hatred Islam feels for them.

  • Sara

    I think what he means are the people  that accuse others of witchcraft and torture them.  I remember a recent case, was it in the UK?, where adults accused a kid of witchcraft and drowned him. 

  • David McNerney

    In a word, yes.

    Again, you don’t have to respect that belief.  But we can’t go round telling people what they can and can’t believe.

  • C Peterson

    Anguish for people who take offense? Give me a break! The only reason they can take offense in the first place is because of their deep doubts about the validity of their beliefs. People confident in their beliefs do not take offense at the comments of people they have little respect for.

    Islam is no different from Christianity. If it looks like a steaming pile, and smells like a steaming pile, there’s no reason we shouldn’t identify it as just that.

  • Michael

    The creator of the Innocence of Muslims video must be jumping for joy as these people dance to his tune. Way to feed the troll, guys.

  • Rolf Boettger

    Let me see if I understand this.  If I call your mother, who is a real person, fat and you hit me, you get arrested.  If I call your prophet, whose existence is doubted by many, fat and you hit me, you want me to get arrested.  Hmm…

  • Gus Snarp

    It really is the ultimate, real life feeding of the trolls. No one would ever have heard of this video if people who got offended by it hadn’t spread it around to try to get more offended. I’m fairly convinced that some of the play this video got in the media in the Middle East was an intentional effort to use it as an excuse to stir up violence. You wouldn’t think they’d need a video to do that, though. If you want to attack American embassies and military bases because our drones and soldiers kill your civilians, because we’ve detained and tortured people without due process, or because of our support for Israel or for any of the recently fallen undemocratic governments we’ve supported and propped up to feed our oil addiction, then do it. You’d have a reason that was at least understandable, but no, apparently real injustice isn’t enough, they had to trump up offense at the fact that we haven’t arrested, tortured, and executed the makers of a crappy video nobody’s interested in.

  • GloomCookie613

    That was my understanding of what he said as well.

  • Gus Snarp

    Much as I am horrified by this violence, the people perpetrating the violence and the people directly calling for violent responses are the only ones responsible for the violence. The video, best I can tell from what I’ve heard about it, is hateful and insulting and disgusting. But neither violence, nor legal prosecution, is the appropriate response to idiotic, hateful speech. In this instance, ignoring it would have been best as they’ve just given the producers exactly what they wanted. I am deeply disturbed by the notion that keeps circulating that we should restrict free speech because the internet now connects us instantly to people who hold the ridiculous notion that violence and prosecution are acceptable responses to insults to religion. There’s clearly a clash of cultures going on that has to be worked through somehow, but we must not allow the central notion of free speech to be torn down. The right to blaspheme is an essential element of the right to free speech. Any law preventing “religious insult”, even if aimed originally at a crappy, hateful video, can eventually be used to prosecute anyone who speaks out against the ills of religion, as we have already seen in places where these laws exist. This must not happen. Blasphemy laws must be struck down, not expanded.

  • Anna

    Yes, it’s unfortunately quite widespread in parts of Africa.

  • Vision_From_Afar

     I can’t say I’m entirely pleased with the off-handed slander of it, but I’m certainly not going to start up a flame war, let alone start honor-killings over it.
    There are far easier targets for “wackadoodle”/violent religious outlooks than the old “Satanic Panic” boogeyman (though I doubt anyone on this blog believes it, perpetuating the myth only keeps it alive in the minds of the weak and easily led).

  • Vision_From_Afar

    I had an entire paragraph where I disagreed with you, where I thought that there should be some kind of societal or “quasi-governmental” “gentleman’s agreement” on what is “fair game.”

    Then I actually stopped and thought. You’re right.
    Pagans put up with this crap. Jews put up with worse. Christians of every stripe have dealt with this crap. Muslims in the USA ignored that video or called the creator an idiot and moved on. We’re Americans, damn it.
    So long as the language is regulated to the religion and not the individual, government has zero business regulating it. Sad that I had slipped that far into PC-think without realizing it.

  • Brian Edward Wilson

    So this coalition respects that some people believe that others deserve to be killed for their blasphemy.  They just shouldn’t act on that belief.  Am I getting this right?

  • Nina Sankari

     Really? Do you think Hitler had right to act as he did? Or we have right to condemn crimes perpetrated in the name of an ideology (nazism, racism etc.) but not those committed in the name of religion or so called culture? Or you suggest we have to accept everything and anything?

  • Philbert

    “considering the rise in support for international anti-blasphemy laws, particularly coming from the OIC.”
    Indeed. International norms for free speech should not be set by regimes that don’t value free speech.

  • Bruce Long

    The faithful don’t show anyone else any real respect or tolerance – just look at the way that all religious doctrines marginalise and demonise others, not to mention the hate in the holy writ itself. They pretend to, but while they are singing the love of some god fiction with one side of their mouth, they are sending everyone to hell with the other.
    What a complete sell-out, corrupt, immature, joke this statement is. These buffoons are only interested in greasing the wheels of commerce. They don’t care who gets hurt by what religion, so long as religions are good tools to use to divide people and make them fight each other.

    Forget about violent demonstrations over offence over nothing real – what about the fact that one can’t have a relationship with someone without having to convert to some objectively ridiculous doctrine, or hatred for homosexuals, or the loss of a family because of the loss of faith, or the inability to prosper among the faithful because of their nepotism and bigotry (although they pretend to be ‘nice’). What about the general marginalisation of and contempt for non-believers. I am going through a divorce with a religious former spouse. I learned the hard way that biblical devotion equals zero respect of any kind for an apostate spouse – even if they are the father of one’s children. Religious doctrines are designed from the bottom up to put the squeeze on everyone else in every possible way. I hope with all my heart that all religious doctrines expire very soon (and no, faithers, athiesm is not a religion or faith anymore than abstinence is a way of having sex a lot. Atheists know this because we are allowed to think critically about what we think and believe).

    Of course, the conditions in which religion thrives – lack of resources, lack of education, (or in the case of the US lack of laws against intellectual corruption and a lack of will to undermine the economic machinery in any way to keep the rich really rich) – are those conditions further perpetuated by religious faith in the hands of sheikhs, theocrats and kings alike.

    This is why atheist activism is an unfortunate and unavoidable necessity. If we don’t stop the march of faith-memes, then we may as well start burning witches and banning books now (or at least all neuter ouselves intellectually). Imagine if all of the resources that went into pushing religious memes down the throats of the unsuspecting and uneducated (not to mention the despairing and willfully perpetually passive aggressive) went into medical scientific research. Cancer would be cured as would most serious illnesses. Perhaps it is preferred by some that people keep dying a much as possible. I wonder why that would be? We would not have a population problem without religiously inspired ignorance and over-breeding. Humanists should seek the best for everyone. This international panel is obviously not peopled by humanists of any stripe.

    I am sick and tired of people piss-potting about how much religious sensibilities get ‘offended’ over criticism of doctrines and obviously bad epistemic and cognitive habits. Religious offence is just a contrivance for religious people to con other into giving them everything they want. Wake the f**k up, world. It’s utterly staggering that people buy the line that it’s atheists that are arrogant. They should read a religious text and see what it says about them at bottom if they decide not to believe it: and all based upon a view of reality for which there is – err – absolutely no real supporting evidence. Humans are a gullible breed! It’s not the message for those that believe that matters – it’s the message for and about those that don’t comply and acquiesce that is the real revelation about the true motive of religions and faiths everywhere. NUTS TO RELIGION, GODISM AND FAITHISM OF ALL KINDS. It’s nothing but bad in the end. Anything that it gives it takes away in more than double measure, and makes people feel the need to be thankful for it.

    I have no respect for any religious faith or doctrine of any kind and never will have. This si not because I am arrogant, but because it is patently obvious that reliigons deserve no respect whatsoever from humanist freethinkers.

  • Expat1031

    How much tolerance does the OIC show for atheism?

  • Greisha


    Nobody talking about right to act on beliefs.

  • Greisha

     Why does any person have right for respect?

  • Greisha

     Yes, you are right.

  • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

    What about the child-torturing believers in witchcraft and sorcery? are you serious? 
    i have found only ONE jackass trying that crap. get your facts straight or you look just as stupid as those you persecute!

  • Anna