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Teaching freedom of speech and religion in schools

Here’s some recommended reading for those interested in the issues covered by this blog:

This Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has an excellent article by historian and author Russell Shorto titled “How Christian Were the Founders?” The piece focuses an a school board battle in Texas, where a small but powerful contingent of right-wing Christians are pushing to incorporate religion into history teaching. Shorto examines issues of intent in the founding documents – such as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – which were written by devoutly Christian men who were nevertheless skeptical of religion’s role in public life. The article touches upon free speech issues in Revolutionary times and today, where right-wing activists and “hard-line secularists” alike claim that they are not being heard.

Shorto’s most recent book, Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason, focuses on related topics.

Read the article here.

Hillary Clinton in the Free Speech vs. Religion Showdown

In an apparent attempt to maintain peace, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has been advocating anti-defamation laws to combat religious slander. But a report from the U.S. State Department says the goal should be more dialogue about religion, not less.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke during the release of the annual report on international religious freedom, and came out strongly against the proposed anti-defamation laws.

“The protection of speech about religion is particularly important since persons of different faith will inevitably hold divergent views on religious questions,” she said. “These differences should be met with tolerance, not with the suppression of discourse.”

Although Secretary Clinton did not name the OIC specifically, the group of 57 countries has been pushing the U.N. Human Rights council to adopt these resolutions.

Such a broad and difficult to define act like “defamation of religion” could be easily misinterpreted or used to crack down on free speech and ethnic minority groups who are already being persecuted. There is a distinct disparity between defamation and harassment, Clinton and many others agree that there is still much to be done to cut back on the latter. While many can agree that religious persecution and discrimination is a major issue in the Middle East and around the world, this act could easily be used to hurt the cause instead of help.

As the report asserts, free speech and religious freedom can be equally upheld without one compromising the other.

Credit: Flickr, US Army