Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"Drawing the Line--Balancing Religious Vilification Laws and Freedom of Speech"

Geoff Holland, Drawing the Line--Balancing Religious Vilification Laws and Freedom of Speech, 8 UTS L. Rev. 9 (2006).

This interesting article examines the hypothetical question "Would publication of the [Danish Mohammed] cartoons in Australia have amounted to religious vilification under current legislation?" (p. 9) The article begins with a good summary of the cartoons and their publication in Denmark, and includes the interesting fact that Denmark had (and has) a blasphemy statute that prosecutors decided not to use against the cartoons. Here's the statute: "Any person who, in public, mocks or scorns the religious doctrines or acts of worship of any lawfully existing religious community in this country shall be liable to imprisonment for any term not exceeding four months."

The article concludes that the key to answering the hypothetical is whether publication in Australia of the cartoons took part in the context of a debate over the cartoons or the phenomenon of self-censorship. If published as part of such a debate, then there would be a credible argument that the cartoons were published "reasonabl[y] and in good faith" under Australian religious vilification laws. However, the author argues, "the publication of the cartoons, removed from the context of the public debate on self-censorship that occurred in Denmark, would not likely meet the requisite standard of reasonableness." (p. 18)

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