Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Religions must all be open for public debate

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing about the Muslim protests, should spare us her straw-man argument (Comment, September 25).

Very few people argue for absolute freedom of expression, which would include that universally condemned liberty to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.

What is at stake is the freedom to criticise and lampoon religious beliefs, which must take their chance with all other ideas and beliefs in the rough-and-tumble of public debate - whether or not their adherents claim offence.

We could all claim to be offended by satire of our beliefs, but if you concede the right not to be offended, criticism and debate will be reduced to banalities.

Violence and threats of violence by religious believers against putative blasphemers must not be allowed to silence and intimidate critics and turn back the clock to pre-Enlightenment times. I commend the French news-magazine Charlie Hebdo for what I take to be a courageous stand against the creeping self-censorship which is chilling healthy debate.

All religions and all beliefs need to be subject to fearless examination and open to mockery of any absurdities, empty pretensions, misplaced reverence, groundless claims, contradictions and repressive tendencies which critics happen to identify in them.

MICHAEL McCARTHY

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