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Is There a Right not to be Offended in One’s Religious Beliefs?

22 Pages Posted: 8 Nov 2009  

George Letsas

University College London - Faculty of Laws

Date Written: June 1, 2009

Abstract

The paper scrutinizes the normative claim that the legal right to freedom of religion requires respect for the religious convictions of believers when expressing oneself in public; or, put differently, the claim that there is a right not to be offended in one’s religious beliefs by the public expression of the views of others. This claim has been endorsed by the European Court of Human Rights in its judicial reasoning and is popular with many courts in Europe when reviewing criminal legislation that prohibits blasphemy, religious hate speech, or the disparaging of religious doctrines. The claim, if true, justifies the position that a liberal state may sanction or prevent the public expression of views for the reason that they offend, or are likely to cause offense to, religious convictions. On the European conception of rights, the putative right not to be offended conflicts with, and should be balanced against, the right to freedom of expression. Challenging the European conception of rights, the paper argues that, on the proper understanding of the normative role of rights in political morality and of the value of free speech, the claim that there is a right not to be offended in one's religious beliefs is unfounded.

Keywords: freedom of religion, freedom of expression, human rights, European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), blasphemy, hate speech

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Letsas, George, Is There a Right not to be Offended in One’s Religious Beliefs? (June 1, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1500291 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1500291

George Letsas (Contact Author)

University College London - Faculty of Laws ( email )

Gower St
London WC1E OEG, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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