September 6, 2011
A Call to McGill
University and the Université de Montréal to Support Freedom of Expression
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
Should violating the sanctity of the scripture of any religion be considered
tantamount to violating the sanctity of the scriptures of all religions?
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
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)