New ECHR ruling fails to uphold free speech, bows to “religious feelings”

The latest ruling by the ECHR about the Austrian woman who called the prophet Mohammed a “pedophile” is disgraceful. Even if Mohammed had NOT (reportedly) had sex with a 9-year old girl, calling him a pedophile should be protected by freedom of speech. Invoking “religious feelings” as a legitimate reason to curtail free speech sets a dangerous precedent. To the true religious fanatic, ANY criticism of Mohammed (or of any other prophet) will be deemed offensive, just as calling L. Ron Hubbard a “fraud” (which he was) will inevitably hurt the feelings of devoted Scientologists. And what if Catholics were to claim that calling the Church an institute for child molesters “hurts their religious feelings”? 

I realize that the ECHR is not criminalizing criticism of Mohammed as such, as some have erroneously claimed, nor even forbidding the use of the word “pedophile” for Mohammed. Technically, the ECHR is merely judging that Austrian judges have not violated the European Convention of Human Rights. As some legal experts have pointed out, the ECHR is known to give a lot of leeway to member states in interpreting the limits of free speech, and tends to be reluctant to overrule legal decisions of nation states. It has also made similar rulings in the past that did not involve Islam (see Russell Blackford’s book:…/047…/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i9). 

Even taking all of this into account, however, the motivation of the ECHR’s ruling is shockingly illiberal, with its deference to poorly defined and will-o’-the-wisp “religious feelings” as a reason for curtailing free speech. The purpose of the ECHR is to protect European citizens against infringements on their freedoms by nation states, and it has failed miserably in this case.

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