Speech and the Sacred: Does the Defense of Free Speech Rest on a Mistake about Religion?
Political Theory, Vol. 40, Issue 3 (June 2012), pp. 318 - 345.
37 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 6 May 2012
Date Written: 2010
Religiously injurious speech has not only generated some of the most intense political controversy involving Muslims living in the West, but is one of the rare issues which poses a genuinely profound conflict of value and moral reference between liberal secularism and Islamic ethics. Some scholars have raised the possibility that the question of religiously injurious speech exposes a serious problem within the very practice of Western secular thought. It has been suggested that liberal secular thought and political practice often misrecognize the nature of the injury involved in speech which violates the sacred, that much secular thought about religious injury (and free exercise more generally) is premised on unacknowledged Protestant conceptions of what real religion is, and that secular political theory does not accord religious practice and sentiment its due. In this paper, I argue against the ideas that secular liberalism tends to treat religion only as a matter of freely-chosen belief and that the unchosen, habituated nature of much religious experience raises a problem for the defense of speech which violates the sacred. I argue that secular thought and practice should remain very concerned about the social and political harms of speech directed unambiguously at social groups, but need not eliminate the gap between religious attachments and religious persons.
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