Defamation is speech designed to be harmful to a person or a group's reputation and is not able to be proven to be true. Defamation of religion, therefore, can be generally defined as speech directed at a particular religion that is negative, hurtful, and untrue. In the pursuit of peaceful relations and freedom of religion, the United Nations has passed several resolutions condemning what it considers defamation of religion. Many groups are concerned that this will undermine the right of free speech, while supporters say it will help to increase tolerance.
There is no legally binding definition of defamation of religion; the general working definition, however, pertains to false statements that are negative towards a religion and that have the potential to cause harm. This can occur using the spoken or written word, can include negative stereotyping, and is frequently inflammatory in nature. The United Nations has passed several resolutions condemning such behavior and would like to enact an international ban on the practice. These resolutions lacked universal support, with the U.S. and most western democracies voting against them.
According to the United Nations, acts of defamation of religion have the potential to cause violations of human rights, such as violent attacks against people or institutions associated with a particular religion. Unfortunate events such as the violent protests sparked by Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammad is used as an example of the unrest that can arise. The United Nations has asserted that Islam is becoming increasingly associated with terrorism in the minds of many people around the world because of unjustified negative portrayals in the press.
There are numerous groups in the U.S. that are concerned that an international ban against defamation of religion will interfere with free speech. They argue that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, for example, protects all speech and was written with the express purpose of allowing people to speak out without fear of repercussions. Criticism of government or religion is protected under this amendment as is freedom of religion. Additionally, members of the press claim that it is almost impossible to report on world events without at times writing negatively about religion.
Those in favor of prohibiting defamation of religion argue that the practice increases tensions between various groups and promotes stereotypes. They feel that infringing slightly on freedom of speech is justified in these cases and that criticizing other religions in such a negative fashion is actually not legally or constitutionally protected speech anyway. They propose that eliminating stereotypes and hurtful verbal or written attacks can promote harmony and tolerance for religious diversity.