You don't have the right not to be offended

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You don't have the right not to be offended is a maxim that explains that avoiding religious offence and insult is not a valid justification to limit freedom of speech. It is sometimes used to counter an apologist's argument that their critics should refrain from criticising religious matters. For example, during the lengthy debate on the depiction of Muhammad in Wikipedia, apologists argued:

"The images contain the sketches of Holy Prophet (Peace Be upon Him) and his companions, which is wrong and highly condemnable as it hurts the feelings of all the Muslims. It is strongly recommended to remove these images from Muhammad (Peace Be upon Him) profile as soon as possible. [1]"

The way Salman Rushdie expressed the concept was:

"Nobody has the right to not be offended. That right doesn't exist in any declaration I have ever read. If you are offended it is your problem, and frankly lots of things offend lots of people."

— Salman Rushdie [2]

Contents

Absurdity of "right to not be offended"

What causes offence is highly subjective. Some religious are very pone to take offence. If a view is widely published, it is quite possible to offend someone somewhere. This would prevent any speech at all, unless the message and audience were tightly controlled, which is absurd.

Proponents of liberal values sometimes find the concept of the "right to not be offended" as itself offensive. The concept is therefore self-refuting.

Possibility of self-censorship

Since a person can limit the books they read and the television they watch, they can perform self-censorship. This is a viable and effective precaution to avoiding being offended. In cases of people wanting to avoid offence, it is very likely that someone who takes offence did not take adequate self-censorship measures.

Politeness and the "right to offend"

While valuable, freedom of speech does not provide a license to express beliefs that are solely intended to cause distress or offence. Atheists usually have other motivations when they express themselves, including to educate, to reform, to entertain and to be involved in political processes.

Some apologists confuse "freedom of speech" with the "right of offend". They also attempt to frame criticism of their religion in terms of a narrow set of measures which are simply asserted while other positive motives are arbitrarily ignored.

"The answer is simple. No human being has the right to offend another person. When people ask me this question, I always ask; What purpose would it serve to offend 1.7 billion people? Would it bring peace, harmony and a better understanding? The answer is a resounding; NO. [3]"

This is a straw man argument since their critics do not assert they have any "right of offend". They may assert they have freedom of speech which is something separate and distinct.

Legislation, insults and offence

Several countries have tried to regulate speech to prevent or reduce the potential for offence. These are distinct from blasphemy laws which are usually narrower and focus on protecting religious doctrine. Laws that protect believers from "insults" include: Poland, Cyprus, Germany [4] Turkey [5] and Russia. [6] Similar legislation is being promoted and considered in the Middle East. [7] Groups such as Church of Scientology have used such laws to silence criticism, such as claims they are a "dangerous cult". [8]

The US has strong constitutional protections for free speech. "Insulting words or behaviour" was a criminal offence in England and Wales from 1986 to 2013. [4]

Examples of people taking religious offence

  • "I'm not an evolved being. I don't appreciate being called a monkey, either. I think that is offensive." [9]

References

  1. [1]
  2. Robin Banerji, Sir Salman Rushdie: Pakistan on the road to tyranny, 18 Sept 2012
  3. Bashy Quraishy, Comment on Do Atheists have the right to offend Muslims? Comment on Do Atheists have the right to offend Muslims?, October 8, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 [2]
  5. [3]
  6. [4]
  7. [5]
  8. [6]
  9. [7] The Atheist Experience #600

See also

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