The Trouble with Religious Hatred

Austin Dacey

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In the discourse of human rights, impiety is no longer understood as an affront to a sacred entity but to a human entity. Blasphemy is personal. Under existing human rights treaties, the prevailing legal model of personal blasphemy is “religious hatred.” Roughly speaking, laws against religious hatred or religious hate speech tend to draw from one of two traditions: the public order tradition, which emphasizes the harassing and provoking nature of religious insult, or the group defamation tradition, which emphasizes the denigration of believers’ reputation or standing in society.

Both traditions have their moral foundation in a principle of equal respect for individuals. So, they can appear to be the more enlightened, quasi-secular descendants of premodern, theological blasphemy. They can pass muster with the liberal-minded. However, the religious hatred standard of personal blasphemy is in some ways more problematic than its more religious predecessors.

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