Freedom From Offense Is Not A Human Right

Atheist Republic tackles the question of offence to opinion. 

Atheists are frequently called out for offending religious people even when all we're doing is stating facts about religion, even citing verses from their holy books. The use of personal offense as a defensive mechanism often serves to shut down the freedom of speech religious people want. 

The conversation below, taken directly from our Facebook page, is a classic example of the rationale of many religious people. Hamid was responding to an image about Islam that he found offensive. 

(All comments are presented below with grammar and spelling errors left intact.)

Hamid: It's insulting. You know how we feel about the prophet Muhammad . So why do this ? 

Atheist Republic: If it's insulting to you, don't look at it. 

Hamid: Doesn't matter if I look or not why should you post something that offends and insult others?

Atheist Republic: Why should I censor myself based on other people's feelings. People that are sensitive to certain content are in full control of what they are exposed to.

​If I get insulted by the Quran, do I have the right to tell you not to post verses of the Quran? No. You have every right to post Quran verses. If I don't like it, I should not read them. But I can't come to you and demand not to post them.

Hamid: It's because of respect for other people if you can't promote your world view withouth these kind of cheap tactics then you just show how intellectually deficient you are . The Quran never teaches us to mock other people only that one side it on the wrong and other on the right . Al your doing is causing rifts and tensions between two parties . As a human you should help promote understanding instead the opposite don't you think ? 

Atheist Republic: We are trying to promote freedom of expression. The Quran teaches us to kill infidels. If I find that insulting, should we ban the Quran? No we should not. Because expression of ideas should be free. That is the point of this post. 

Hamid: Freedom of expression of this type is counter productive to the aims and objectives you wish to achieve . Because all your getting from this is a few cheap laughs and a lot of angry and insulted Muslims . The Quran teaches peace ad tolerance the verses you are referring to is specifically for the battle field in a war and not a general ruling . 

Atheist Republic: I don't think so. For example the annual "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day" event has been very successful in showing that we can't stop freedom of expression. It is very effective at making its point. When limitations to freedom of expression are challenged, everyone benefits, even Muslims.

Also, please refer to this Hadith: "The Prophet said, "The blood of a Muslim, who confesses that Lâ ilâha ill-Allâh (there is no god but Allâh), cannot be shed except in three cases: 1. Life for life (in cases of intentional murders without right i.e., in Al-Qis̩âs̩ - Law of Equality in punishment); 2. A married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse; and 3. The one who turns renegade from Islâm (apostate) and leaves the group of Muslims. [9:17-O.B]" - Sahih al-Bukhari, 9:83:17

In other subjects of debate, this line of reasoning isn't typically used. Attacking someone personally, especially in a way unrelated to the topic at hand, is out of bounds, but it's not considered offensive to strongly state something that the other person happens to disagree with or to question what the other person is saying. 

People engaged in political, economic, or scientific conversations are expected to hold their views up for critical analysis. Yet, this is not demanded of religious people, even when they are subjecting others to their beliefs through legislation or other public policy. Fundamentalist Christians demand that intelligent design be taught alongside evolution in public schools and yet they refuse to hold creationism to the same degree of scientific scrutiny as evolution, and get offended when anyone else tries. 

Religion doesn't require logic or critical assessment of its adherents, so it relies on "taking offense" as a defense mechanism. It has become popularly accepted that it's taboo to question other people's beliefs when religious or spiritual convictions are involved; if someone does question them using facts, history, or logical persuasion, they are somehow violating that person's rights by causing offense and this is generally seen by society as perfectly acceptable. ​

  • What do you think? Should atheists speak out about God and religion when it's safe and possible to do so? Should we avoid speaking out because religious people might get offended? Share your thoughts by replying to this email and we might include them on our website. Please let us know if you wish to remain anonymous.  

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

4 comments to ''Freedom From Offense Is Not A Human Right"


  1. Everybody Draw Mohammed Day -even non-Muslims can go on suicide missions ;)

    Hamid said: ... the verses you are referring to is specifically for the battle field in a war and not a general ruling.

    The battle field -places like nightclubs, festivals, holiday resorts, schools, airports, train-stations, buses, city streets, ad infinitum...

  2. Couldn't agree more. Everybody should have the right to say what they want but they most definitely should be held account for what they say.

    "Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you."

    Christopher Hitchens.

    This always struck a cord with me, particularly the 'argument and disputation for their own sake'. Too often 'being offended' is a cheap, hollow soundbite to quell debate without offering even the remotest rationale behind it. And it becomes viral, when used in all strata as a defense against cognitive dissonance. Where are we going as a species when words can wound sensibilities to the extent that homicide is palatable to some?

  3. Anthony de Mello, the Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, contended that when we find ourselves or someone else reacting in a strongly emotional rather than a rational way we ought consider if we or they are in a hypnotised state.

    Fanatics, whether religious, political or of some other idealistic hue are generally hypnotised. The original hypnotic state is created and sustained by heightened emotional arousal and thrives and survives as to the degree that the subject is held in a state of emotional over-stimulation. When in such over-aroused states one has diminished access to the higher cortex where rational and critical thinking originates. One cannot fully think for oneself and can only rely on the more primal indoctrinated and hypnotised brain.

    When in such states we are locked onto a diminished repertoire of responses. With a certain cohort that will inevitably lead to aggressive responses. Understanding these dynamics should encourage prudence in certain situations with certain parties. Thread with awareness on peoples idealistic indoctrinations.


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