In its General Comment No. 34 dealing with freedom of expression, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) rejected the idea that a blasphemy law could ever be human-rights compliant, unless its function was to prevent incitement to religious or racial hatred. This is a widely shared view that is consistently endorsed when any international blasphemy controversy (such as that involving the Danish Cartoons in 2005) arises. This article assesses the legitimacy of this view. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) permits freedom of expression to be limited inter alia in the name of public morality, provided that the law in question is also necessary to achieve this end. This article argues that because a blasphemy law can be a response to a public moral vision; therefore a blasphemy law can serve a legitimate purpose insofar as human rights law is concerned. It is further submitted that whereas some blasphemy laws are unacceptably draconian, it is not inherently impossible for such a law to represent a proportionate response to a public morals concern. Thus, the conclusion from the UNHRC is not warranted by the text of the ICCPR. Moreover, there is a risk that, in reaching this conclusion the committee is evincing an exclusively secularist worldview in its interpretation of the ICCPR that undermines its claim to universality.
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