On September 7, 2011, the Second Global Conference on World's Religions after 9/11 will take place in Montreal. It is organized with the active cooperation of McGill University and the Université de Montréal. The Dalai Lama will open the conference and many personalities have confirmed that they will attend.
In a communiqué released at the beginning of May, the organizing committee of the event stated that the following question would be submitted to the participants:
Should violating the sanctity of the scripture of any religion be considered tantamount to violating the sanctity of the scriptures of all religions?
The original English version of the communiqué is still available on the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions website.
Yet, before the Montreal meeting has taken place, the organizing committee of the event has published on its website a Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World's Religions that answers the question mentioned above. According to the program of the conference , this Declaration will be at the heart of the participants’ discussions.
Article 12.4 - Everyone has the right not to have one's religion denigrated in the media or the academia.
Article 12.5 - It is the duty of the follower of every religion to ensure that no religion is denigrated in the media or the academia.
If this principle were to be adopted and turned into law, it would open the door to a wide range of blasphemy-type criminal and other legal proceedings. This is because it would suffice to claim that a criticism of religion was “denigrating” to justify legal action. In effect, this Declaration immunizes religion from criticism.
These measures embrace the line promoted for many years by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The OIC represents 56 Muslim majority countries and it pressures non-Muslim countries at the United Nations and in other international forums to prosecute their own citizens for blasphemy if they criticize Islam. Article 22a of the OIC Declaration on Human Rights in Islam reads as follows:
“Everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Shari'ah.”
If certain of the principles found in the Declaration that will be discussed in Montreal were ever to become law, it could be impossible to criticize even the severe punishments meted out in some jurisdictions to those who abandon their religion.
Those Islamic religious authorities calling for the punishing of "apostates", (1) for example, could claim that such punishments are protected from criticism and public-policy discussion by their ostensibly "religious" quality. The same thing could be said of the sharia law provision according to which parents who kill their children may not be charged criminally, a situation implicitly endorsing honour killing (2).
The principles espoused in the Declaration are totally incompatible with basic human rights and the ideals that universities should be endorsing in a free and democratic society.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee asserted in July 2011 that “Freedom of expression is a necessary condition for the realisation of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights.”
In these circumstances, we the undersigned, enjoin the authorities of McGill University and the Université de Montréal to endorse freedom of expression by publicly dissociating themselves from the censorship towards which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the World's Religions leads.
Tahir Aslam Gora
Secretary, Muslim Canadian Congress
President - American Islamic Forum for Democracy
President - International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
IHEU Representative, United Nations Geneva
Asst. Professor of Political Science - University of Western Ontario
Writer and Interfaith advocate
Director - Forum for Learning
President - UK National Secular Society
(1) Section o8.1-2, Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), Beltsville (MD), Amana Publications, 1994
(2) Section o1.2.4, Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller)
September 6, 2011