Let’s think a little about this idea that there is a tension or conflict or contradiction between freedom of speech and religious freedom.

What is meant by religious freedom? One, individual belief. No problem. However, that does not entail protection and insulation from disagreement – from awarness of other people who don’t share one’s beliefs. That is not how we understand freedom. My freedom to run up and down hooting and waggling my fingers does not mean that other people can’t laugh and point and make remarks. Freedom just means freedom, it doesn’t mean freedom plus nice pleasant soothing feelings of calm self-satisfaction free of all disruptive challenge. If you want insulation from awareness of people who don’t agree with or unconditionally admire your religion, you have to enter a closed religious order. You have to insulate yourself, you can’t call on the state or international law to insulate you. Two, practice. That’s different, because it may affect other people (and other sentient beings). Familiar stuff – drugs, animal slaughter, education, pacifism and the draft, medical attention, underage marriage, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, caste systems, female subordination, punishment, law – and a great deal more. Practice is where religious freedom really can be in tension with other very important values and commitments, which is why disputes over the tension often end up in court. But the idea that freedom of speech and religious freedom are in tension seems to be about belief rather than practice. It seems to be about claiming that one is not free to believe what one wants to unless other people are prevented from interfering with that freedom by mentioning their refusal to believe the same thing. But an irrational belief that depends for its survival on the assent of everyone else is no kind of irrational belief at all; it’s just sissy stuff. Surely real zealots ought to be embarrassed at themselves for turning to the UN to help them hang on to their beliefs! True ‘faith’ comes from within, and laughs to scorn the idea that it needs outside help – especially from the UN of all places.

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