Freedom to Criticize Religion Finds Majority Support in 20 Nations


Dec. 2, 2009

A majority of citizens in 13 of 20 nations say that they support the right to criticize religion, according to a recent poll by, an international collaborative whose aim is to give voice to public opinion on global issues, conducted their recent poll of 18,487 people in light of lobbying at the United Nations by Islamic countries who are seeking to introduce a worldwide blasphemy law. The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a group of 56 Muslim nations, has been championing the proposed UN resolution, which calls on all nations of the world "to effectively combat defamation of all religions and incitement to religious hatred in general and against Islam and Muslims in particular."

The resolution was passed by the UN Human Rights Council in March and is expected to come before the General Assembly before the end of 2009. Similar resolutions have gained the council's approval since 1999 and have been passed by the General Assembly since 2005.

Recently, however, support appears to be waning.

According to the poll, across all countries surveyed, 57 percent of respondents on average agree that "people should be allowed to publicly criticize a religion because people should have freedom of speech." Support for the right to criticize religion was strongest in the United States at 89 percent (and only nine percent in support of government restrictions).

However, approximately a third of respondents agree that governments "should have the right to fine or imprison people who publicly criticize a religion because such criticism could defame the religion." The strongest supporters of restrictions on criticism of religions are in Muslim countries.

According to Frank Jordans of the Associated Press, "The proposal faces stiff resistance from Western countries, including the United States… Experts say the bid stands some chance of eventual success if Muslim countries persist. And whatever the outcome, the campaign risks reigniting tensions between Muslims and the West that President Barack Obama has pledged to heal, reviving fears of a 'clash of civilizations'."


(Terry Sanderson is the president of the National Secular Society (U.K.). He is also the editor of the weekly NSS Newsline, in which this article first appeared on Nov. 27, 2009. This article is republished by permission of the NSS.)