Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Comic Book Banned in Malaysia

A story combining two of my favourite things: comic books and blasphemy!  The always-useful Religion Clause Blog reports that Malaysia has banned an issue of a comic book titled "Ultraman the Ultra Power" (a title I've never heard of) because of a line connecting the titular super hero to Allah.

Forthcoming Article in University of Queensland Law Journal

I'm happy to report that the University of Queensland Law Journal will publish my article Religion, Secularism, and the National School Chaplaincy and Student Welfare Program.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"To Ban or Not to Ban Blasphemous Videos"

Evelyn M. Aswad, To Ban or Not to Ban Blasphemous Videos, 44 Georgetown Journal of International Law 1313 (2013).

This article discusses the worldwide outcry over the Innocence of Muslims video and the calls by many outside (and some inside) the United States to ban it.  Aswad's goal, specifically, is to examine the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which the U.S. is a signatory) to determine whether that document requires members to suppress material like the video.  The key provision at issue is Article 20(2) of the ICCPR, which states that "Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law."  The U.S. filed a reservation to this section when it signed the ICCPR, stating that it would not suppress material protected by the First Amendment.

To my mind, this answers the question of any legal obligation the U.S. might have at international law, but Aswad takes the analysis a step further and argues that, even without a reservation, the Convention does not require suppression.  Through a textual analysis of the provision, she argues that Article 20(2) is focussed on advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement, and that "[i]t would not constitute 'advocacy' for a speaker adhering to religion X to simply criticize, question, mischaracterize or ridicule religion Y without the intent to promote hatred against members of religion Y." (p. 1319)  Thus, in order for Article 20(2) to require the suppression of the Innocence of Muslims video, Aswad concludes that evidence would have to be adduced that its maker had
the intent of promoting hatred towards Muslims.  Further, she argues that the use of the word "incitement" in Article 20(2) is rather vague, as it does not disclose the degree of proximity needed between the act in question and the result which the section hopes to prevent (p. 1319-20).

Another interesting aspect of this short paper is a summary of the drafting history of Article 20.  Aswad concludes that "the point of Article 20(2) was to prohibit expression where the speaker intended for his or her speech to cause hate in listeners who would agree with the hateful message and therefore engage in harmful acts toward the targeted group.  There is no indication in the negotiating history that Article 20 was intended to prohibit speech about a targeted group that would offend the feelings of members of that group." (p. 1322).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Scooped: Two New Articles on Fortune-Telling and Religious Freedom

Two new articles on fortune-telling and religious freedom have appeared on SSRN (thanks to Religion Clause Blog for the pointer.  First, Nicole Jones has written Did Fortune Tellers See this Coming? Spiritual Counseling, Professional Speech, and the First Amendment.  Second, Mark Movsesian has written Defining Religion in American Law: Psychic Sophie and the Rise of the Nones.

These comes as I'm in the middle of writing my own article on fortune-telling, witchcraft, and religious freedom, so in some ways I've been scooped.  But I plan to continue forward, as I've been collecting materials on the topic for several years and I'm sure my article will take a different approach than these two (in part, because I'll be incorporating Canadian and Australian materials).  I've decided to finish my first draft and then read the new articles and discuss them in a new section.