Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr., ICLRS Director and member of the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief, moderated a roundtable discussion—“Defamation of Religions:The Relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion”—held at the United Nations Headquarters on 28 October 2009. The meeting was co-sponsored by NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief, The BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies, and The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. In addition to Professor Durham, the discussion featured Dr. Peter Petkoff of Oxford University, Nasser Weddady of the American Islamic Congress, Angela C. Wu of the Becket Fund, Suhail Khan of the Institute for Global Engagement, and Elizabeth Cassidy of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Summary from the Program Announcement: “For the first time since non-binding resolutions on ‘defamation of religions’ were passed at the UN starting in 1999, a binding treaty citing ‘defamation of religions’ is being considered by a UN body. This week, the Ad Hoc Committee on the elaboration of complementary international standards (established by the Durban Outcome Document) is debating an optional protocol to the ICERD incorporating ‘defamation of religions’ in Geneva. The issue also promises to be a high-profile matter at the General Assembly this year.
Critics of ‘defamation of religions’ say that the concept undermines the foundations of human rights law by protecting ideas instead of people, and empowering states instead of their citizens. Does the concept foster understanding and accomplish what its proponents say it does, or does it destabilize rights that international instruments currently protect?
This roundtable discussion [sought to] foster philosophical, sociological, and legal understanding of a timely and important issue.”