The Catholic Church and Free Expression:

The Church (I'm not speaking of individual Catholics, just the church hierarchy, or at least its authoritative voices), still seems not to have accepted free expression about religion, or for that matter religious freedom. Here's a Reuters report:

The Vatican on Saturday condemned the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad which have outraged the Muslim world, saying freedom of speech did not mean freedom to offend a person's religion.

"The freedom of thought and expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously applies to any religion," the Vatican said.

"Any form of excessive criticism or derision of others denotes a lack of human sensitivity and can in some cases constitute an unacceptable provocation," it said in a statement issued in response to media demands for the Church's opinion.

The seat of the Roman Catholic Church said it deplored violent reactions to the cartoons. "Real or verbal intolerance, from wherever it comes, whether as an action or a reaction, is always a serious threat to peace." . . .

The Vatican said the institutions of a country should not be held responsible for the actions of a newspaper, but said governments "could and should intervene according to (their) national legislation".

This is not just an admonition about what's right, decent, productive, or in good taste -- rather, it's a claim that the law ought to have a relatively free hand in restricting speech that "offend[s] religious feelings of the faithful," which apparently includes some unstated amount of "excessive criticism or derision of others" that "denotes a lack of human sensitivity." May we still publish the works of Martin Luther? How about of Christopher Hitchens? The Last Temptation of Christ? The religious works of the Jehovah's Witnesses? A historical film in which some actor plays Mohammed? How about linking to the cartoons themselves (as I've done before)? Seeing the cartoons is , yet surely some who believe that any depiction of Mohammed is blasphemy can be offended even by a republication that's aimed at exploring the controversy.

This is not a marginal issue; it is at the core of the rights of free speech and religious freedom. Under the position the Vatican sets forth, large zones of religious debate, political debate, and art would be outlawed.

I realize this is just a press account; I've searched for an English-language version of the Vatican statement itself, but couldn't find it. I would love to learn that this is all just a misquote; if that's so, please do let me know. But if the account is accurate, it speaks pretty badly of the Church.

Thanks to Tim Cavanaugh at Reason's Hit & Run for the pointer.