The Spectacle Blog

Catholic Censorship Envy?

By on 5.8.06 | 3:54PM

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin, George Mason law prof, claims that Catholic cardinals have censorship envy over the Da Vinci Code:

As senior Conspirator Eugene Volokh has warned, one of the dangers of censoring "offensive" speech is "censorship envy." If one group is given the power to suppress speech offensive to it, others are likely to press harder to get the same privilege for themselves. As Eugene points out in the post linked above, many of the European Muslims who sought to suppress the Mohammed cartoons were partly motivated by the fact that many European countries ban Holocaust denial and other anti-Semitic speech.

This dynamic is clearly at work in the efforts of some Catholic leaders to ban the Da Vinci Code. As Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the chief advocates of banning The Code puts it, "[t]here are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking. They will make it painfully clear to you." The Reuters article where this quote appears notes that the Cardinal was referring to Muslim calls for censoring the Mohammed cartoons. He and at least one other cardinal "asserted that other religions would never stand for offences against their beliefs and that Christians should get tough [too]."

The cardinals are arguing that, if Muslims have the right to ban speech offensive to them, so too should Christians. Just as the Muslims previously made the same argument with respect to Jews! The rapid spread of "censorship envy" makes it all the more important to crush this vicious dynamic at its roots - by denying EVERY group the power to censor its critics. It is true that some of these critics are more offensive than others. Certainly, Holocaust denial is far worse than anything in the Da Vinci Code. But "censorship envy" ensures that such distinctions are unlikely to deter the spread of repression once it has begun.

This is what happens when you believe Drudge Report and Reuters headlines. I don't quibble with the "censorship envy" theory, but I think Somin uncritically accepts the Reuters misread of the cardinal. As Rush says, let's go to the tape:

"Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget.... Sometimes it is our duty to do something practical. So it is not I who will tell all Christians what to do but some know legal means which can be taken in order to get the other person to respect the rights of others," Arinze said....

"This is one of the fundamental human rights: that we should be respected, our religious beliefs respected, and our founder Jesus Christ respected... Those who blaspheme Christ and get away with it are exploiting the Christian readiness to forgive and to love even those who insult us. There are some other religions which if you insult their founder they will not be just talking. They will make it painfully clear to you."

It looks to me as though Arinze says Christians: 1- Deserve the same respect as all other religions, 2- Should not riot and threaten murder when their religion is not respected, 3- Should take action against blasphemy (very broadly speaking, so this includes a boycott, educating themselves about the truth, telling others about the truth), 4- And, where appropriate, take legal action.

Arinze defers to legal experts around the world. One could infer that that could include censorship. One could also infer by his comments about those other religions that "will make it painfully clear to you" that Christians should respectfully argue their case in the public square rather than censoring offending material. But to say that Cardinal Arinze is advocating censorship is not accurate.

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