Four Anglican bishops serving in northeastern Africa and Cyprus have written the United Nations asking that “an international declaration be negotiated that outlaws the intentional and deliberate insulting or defamation of persons (such as prophets), symbols, texts and constructs of belief deemed holy by people of faith.” They make this proposal in response to the recent movie on Muhammad and “similar offensive incidents [which] have occurred in some European countries” and ”evoked massive and violent responses worldwide.”
It is a bad idea, a very bad idea, on many levels. For one thing, such a law would violate the Western ideal of free speech we should not give up. For another, it would quickly be used to suppress not only “deliberate insulting or defamation” but reasonable criticism and disagreement. One man’s well- and kindly-argued belief that another man is in error can be to that other man insult and defamation, especially if he has no natural appreciation for the free exchange of ideas.