Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Jefferson and the Motoons

Second historical quotation of the day. From what Oliver Kamm argues is 'the most significant document of the Enlightenment', the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1779 and adopted in 1786:
No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion.
That surely includes being free to 'profess, and by argument to maintain their opinions' about religion. As Oliver writes in another piece, it's a freedom that has been undermined by the decision of Yale University Press to exclude all illustrations of Mohammed from Jytte Klausen's scholarly account of the Motoons episode. Yale appears to endorse the restricted version of freedom of expression articulated by a UN spokesperson after Islamic extremists reacted to the Danish cartoons with violent protests: 'We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion, and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions.' As Oliver says:
That principle is moderate, balanced and pernicious. The idea that people’s beliefs, merely by being deeply held, merit respect is grotesque. A constitutional society upholds freedom of speech and thought: it has no interest in its citizens’ feelings. If it sought to protect sensibilities, there would be no limit to the abridgements of freedom that the principle would justify.
Jefferson! Thou shouldst be living at this hour.

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