I argue that under normal circumstances a state that is liberal and secular should not use its legal apparatus to suppress the publication of cartoons like those that triggered the deadly terrorist attack on the premises of Charlie Hebdo
in 2015, if it is determined to abide by its core values. These values, which include religious neutrality, religious freedom, and unhindered freedom of criticism, imply that individual citizens are prima facie legally free to express their disapproval of particular religions or religious faith in general, through any non-violent means they consider appropriate, including parody and ridicule. This idea is open to various objections. Those focusing on the protection of religion as such can be easily dismissed, but the charge that defamation of religion causes offence to believers has to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, I defend the view that we need something stronger than taking offense to justifiably ban harsh religious criticism. In particular, I argue that, if the above sort of criticism prevents its recipients from exercising their basic rights or it incites third parties to engage in criminal activities against the above individuals, it should be subject to legal sanctions. However, this is not the case with the cartoons that appeared in Charlie Hebdo
, since, as far as I can tell, no basic rights of French Muslims were violated, and no violent actions were committed against them as a result of their publication.
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