THINK (4 MIN)
Ask everyone to spend 5 minutes thinking silently about the discussion questions on display:
- Think of a time when you were able to freely express your religion or beliefs with others. How was that experience for you?
- Have you ever been denied the right to freely express your beliefs? What happened?
- Are there groups of people in your context who face barriers to freely expressing their religion or beliefs?
- Who are they? What barriers do they face?
- Why do they face those barriers?
PAIR (15 MIN)
Ask people to discuss the questions in pairs for 15 minutes. Emphasise that no one needs to say anything that feels too private – they should share only what they feel comfortable sharing.
SHARE (10 MIN)
Bring everyone back to the plenary. Thank participants for sharing their experiences with each other. Invite people to share their reflections on who faces barriers to freely expressing their religion or beliefs in their context – who faces barriers and why? What are those barriers?
KNOWLEDGE INPUT (5-10 MIN)
Explain that you are going to focus the discussion on the issue of blasphemy laws and other similar laws that are often used to restrict expression of religion or beliefs. This issue may already have come up during the plenary discussion.
Hold a short talk emphasising the following points:
- It can seem logical and moral to ban offensive speech and behaviour, in order to protect social harmony. It is, however, impossible to define what is offensive. Some people are offended by the mere existence of ideas other than their own. According to international law, the speech that should be banned is speech that incites hatred and violence.
- Laws on blasphemy, apostasy and ‘protecting social harmony’ are usually much broader than this. These laws tend to make insulting religious feelings or defamation of religion (and especially the majority religion) a criminal offence. These laws usually violate both freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.
- Often these laws are vaguely worded, providing no clear definition of what is and is not blasphemy. Sometimes no concrete evidence is required and there is often a lack of due legal process. These factors put anyone who expresses beliefs or opinions contrary to those of the majority or power holders at risk being accused of blasphemy, as well as making the laws easily abused for personal vendettas. As a result, minorities and dissenters are particularly vulnerable to accusations, but anyone can be affected.
- Criminal cases relating to blasphemy, (or the disruption of social harmony), often occur in the context of broader religious freedom violations, such as attacks on places of worship, desecration of religious sites, hate crimes and the harassment of individuals belonging to minority belief groups. In some contexts, violent extremists take matters into their own hands, inciting violence and administering mob justice against those accused. Instead of prosecuting and punishing those who use violence as response to peaceful speech, laws on social harmony and blasphemy often result punish the victims of that violence – those who are accused of blasphemy or disrupting social harmony.
Explain that we are going to look at a case study and reflect on it in pairs. Ask people to go back into their pairs.
THINK (4 MIN)
Distribute the case study and ask everyone to read it quietly by themselves. Then display the discussion questions and ask everyone to spend a few minutes in silent reflection:
- How did you feel reading about the experiences of the person in the story?
- Do you think blasphemy and other similar laws are necessary or desirable? Why or why not?
PAIR (10 MIN)
Tell participants that they will now share their thoughts in pairs. Emphasise that this is a sensitive topic, and they may have different views. Ask them to decide who will share first and to practice deep listening – to listen carefully and respectfully without interrupting. Say that often, we listen in order to mentally prepare our own response, especially if we have a difference of opinion, but that in this exercise we are going to practice listening simply to understand the other person’s point of view. When the first person has finished talking, thank them for sharing and then switch roles. Tell them that they have 10 minutes to share with one another.
After 4 minutes, remind participants to switch roles. Keep an eye on the dynamics within the pairs and remind people to listen carefully – it is possible to respectfully agree to disagree!
TIP! Be careful with timekeeping here!
SHARE (10 MIN)
Lead the discussion with the following questions:
- How did it feel to express yourself without being interrupted?
- How did it feel to listen to your partner, with the sole purpose of understanding their point of view?
- Has the exercise given you any new thoughts or perspectives on blasphemy and other similar laws? In what ways?