December 14, 2014
A good commentator friend on this blog has been persistingly quizzing me on blasphemy laws. I, the ill-informed man that I am, oppose any role for the state in blasphemy. He believes it harms people's emotions, hence we should prohibit blasphemy. Or something to that effect. See the discussion in the comments section of this blog post.
But I just came across (by sheer accident – no, my Christian friends, I was not actively searching for it) the following blasphemous act of Rowan Atkinson.
Why, this is scandalous! How dare Mr. Bean speak thus of Christ?
Let's kill him, shall we? – my question is addressed to Shadab. Bring out a saw…
On a serious note, I'm publishing the current draft freedom of speech policy of Swarna Bharat Party:
Freedom of speech is the lodestar of liberty. Without it no other liberty exists.
When Lillian Gobitis Klose refused to salute the U.S. flag as an act of conscience, Justice Robert Jackson’s said: ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.’
Freedom of speech is not always pleasant to hear. It can be used by obnoxious people or those we entirely disagree with. But the free society believes that it would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it. Defending freedom of speech means also defending the speech rights of people one profoundly despises.
A mature democracy therefore insists on absolute freedom of speech. USA set the example for the world in this regard through the First Amendment to its Constitution. That example has not been exceeded to date for it is simple and comprehensive. It states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The American First Amendment is not outcome-dependent. The US Government is barred from restricting speech no matter any good results that would result from the restrictions. The dangers of allowing the government to restrict speech overwhelmingly outweigh whatever benefits accrue from such restrictions. The USA will never have Nazis and fascists in power, not because America is free of racism or authoritarianism, but because, when a crazy idea is discussed freely and openly, that idea is can also be refuted freely and openly. The more any idea is suppressed, the stronger it becomes.
This was all we needed in the Indian Constitution. Unfortunately, that’s not what we got in the original Constitution. And by now these rights have been so badly diluted that we no longer have free speech protections in India. As a result, India’s press freedom ranks 140 out of 181 nations in the world.
India must have absolute free speech on the lines of the Americans. Nothing less will do. The only restrictions would relate to actual harm (when it is no longer speech), such as direct threats or direct incitement of violence or libel that commercially harms others. And, of course, it is reasonable to expect time-based programming (e.g. on TV) for appropriateness of the audience.
India has a proud heritage of free speech, open discourse and tolerance. Unfortunately, during British rule we lost much of this openness and have never recovered. Draconian laws like s.153A and s295A of the Indian Penal Code pander to fundamentalist delusions and threats. Many more draconian laws are now rampant across India. These must go.
To achieve absolute freedom of speech in India:
- We will introduce a Constitutional amendment that assures Indians the free speech rights that the citizens of the USA enjoy.
- We will repeal all laws that curtail freedom of speech (e.g. s.153A and s295A of IPC and s.66 of the IT Act that makes certain online comments an offence) or allow bans or censorship. The colonial provisions of sedition and blasphemy in our laws are entirely inconsistent with free speech. We will amend s.124A of IPC to check the misuse of sedition by state authorities against political malcontents. The amendment will incorporate the Supreme Court’s interpretation in 1962 that, no matter how much the accused spreads ‘disaffection’ against the government, sedition can’t be invoked unless he incites people to violence.
- We will revoke all bans, e.g. on books and movies, except those involving libel and a direct threat or direct incitement of violence. We will also democratise broadcasting services (TV, radio) on payment of market-determined fee for spectrum.
- We will abolish the Censor Board. The market can readily supply any necessary rating agencies (e.g. a film industry body) to classify films for viewing suitability by age. Adult Indians do not need a government to tell them what they will nor not watch. If a government functionary in a Censor Board presumably does not fall into depravity by viewing a film before it is censored, it is preposterous to suggest that Indian adults will become depraved or violent by seeing it. Indians must be accountable for their violent actions, regardless of whether they have watched a movie or read a book.
- We are dedicated to internet freedom. The internet offers a communication system uniquely free from government intervention. We will remove regulatory barriers to internet innovation and prevent any unnecessary interference with new technologies. We object to the governance of the internet by any governmental or intergovernmental organization.
- We will review laws regarding national symbols and the flag to bring them in consonance with freedom of speech. The rights of citizens – who may choose to express their dissent in loathsome but peaceful ways – are more important than the rights of a nation to its symbols. Symbols do not trump freedom of thought and of conscience.