Rebecca Ross, Blasphemy and the Modern, 'Secular' State, (2012) 17 Appeal 3.
This article in the Canadian legal journal Appeal contains an interesting discussion of Canada's prohibition on blasphemous libel, a subject I've written much about. The key question explored is whether such a prohibition is consonant with the country's status as a multicultural and secular democracy that cherishes freedom of speech and religion. Ross' style is somewhat discursive, and the discussion ranges from Canada to the Danish Cartoon Controversy to the Rushdie Affair and back again, but she also makes some valuable and insightful contributions to the topic. For one thing, she eschews formalism and instead argues that Canada's blasphemy law must be considered in a real-world context where Islam is the most highly-visible religion to be concerned with blasphemy:
"Here we encounter one of the foundational concerns with religious freedom: is religion a choice, or is it a cultural identity? While some scholars argue that certain faiths like Islam view religion as an identity because of their different philosophical worldview, cultural critics argue that Islam is simply a more coercive form of opinion, due to the serious--and often fatal--consequences of apostasy and the forbiddance of religious critique. While the standard Post-Colonial academic response to such criticism is to argue that the Western world is 'othering' a different culture and perpetuating stereotypes of Muslim barbarism, and while it is true that theoretically, any religion could require the same responses to blasphemy, we are still left with the uncomfortable fact that in contemporary society there are different consequences for criticizing Islam as opposed to other religions. . . . Canada's law against blasphemy must be considered within this context; to do otherwise would be to ignore contemporary socio-political reality as well as law's impact on the real world outside of Academia." (p. 8)
In discussing Canada's ban, Ross also makes the interesting point that the dramatic growth in the numbers of religious nonbelievers in Canada requires that they be treated as a minority group and that recognition needs to be given to the fact that blasphemy laws affect them quite differently than such laws affect religious individuals. (p. 15) She also points out that "Canadian blasphemy law makes no distinction between those who criticize others' religions as opposed to those who criticize their own." (p. 15)
Ross concludes with strong words:
Blasphemy laws raise the spectre of censorship in an area of religion, not race or ethnicity, and the threat of violence in this area should be defined in exactly the way threats of violence in pursuit of political aims are usually defined--as terrorism. The question is: should the state be involved in determining who can speak about religion? According to Canadian notions of freedom of expression, religion and multiculturalism, the answer must be a resounding 'No.'" (p. 18)