On December 14th, 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members in a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School. At the time, some believed that this horrific event could usher in some badly needed reforms to US gun laws. I guess that didn’t turn out as intended. Here are the gun deaths since then:
In 1989, 24 years ago tomorrow, a pro-democracy demonstration by Chinese students ended in bloodshed as soldiers tried to clear Tienanmen Square in the center of Beijing. No one knows for sure but thousands may have died. The Chinese government puts the number at 241 dead, and continues to pretend that really nothing important happened. Here’s the story of the event, told by way of maps:
On June 3rd, thousands of troops converge on the square from all directions. The protesters take to the street in order to block the troops. The latter then open fire. Many are believed to have been killed by tanks driving over people.
Here’s another map, showing the places where 176 victims were killed or the hospitals to which their bodies were taken (nothing is known about most of the other victims):
(source, click image to enlarge)
The story of the “tank man” has come to symbolize the events. The day after the crackdown, an unknown man carrying shopping bags steps out in front of a column of tanks. The first tank tries to drive around him, but the man moves sideways to block its advance. Ultimately, he even climbs on top of the first tank and argues with the driver. He is then pulled away by “onlookers” and “disappears”.
Here’s a video:
This ad for the King Khalid Foundation says that female abuse is “a phenomenon found in the dark”, cunningly – or involuntarily – mocking Saudi dress code rules. The veil does indeed cover more than the female body.
Someone’s been taking a course on military history, in particular the chapter on the “scorched earth policy“:
Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the city of Kyaukphyu, Rakhine state. The Digital Globe satellite image shown above, from October 25th, captures the aftermath.
In the Rakhine state (also called “Arakan” by some) of Myanmar, the unfortunate evolution of discrimination, unequal application of the law, and forced displacement into violence and humanitarian crisis has come to bear. Since June, fits of violence between Buddhist and Muslim Rakhine, and Muslim Rohingya communities have likely left tens of thousands displaced and scores dead.
These photos were taken in Sydney a few days ago, during violent protests triggered by a YouTube video mocking Islam and the prophet Mohammed. Apart from the possible psychological harm inflicted on these children by their parents (I assume the children are old enough to be able to read the signs they’re holding), there’s also the fact that we can’t hope for a better world as long as people insist on teaching their children how to hate.
More posts in this series are here.
Jeremy Waldron claims that tolerance is more than merely the absence of violent assault on people who have adopted beliefs and practices we don’t like, and more than simply abstaining from persecution and legal sanction. He says that tolerance also implies the absence of hate speech and a legal prohibition of hate speech. Members of minority groups whose beliefs and practices are strongly disapproved of by the rest of society, have a right to go about their lives without the threat of constant hatred, vilification, insult and humiliation. They have a right to visit the shops and restaurants they want to visit, and to generally interact with others without being treated as pariahs.
And, indeed, that sounds quite reasonable. People undoubtedly have and should have such rights. But others have rights as well: hate mongers have a right to free speech, and racist shop keepers and restaurant owners have a right to ban whoever they want from their private property, under certain circumstances.
When the rights of the haters and the rights of despised minorities come into conflict, the different rights have to be balanced. I argued before that the right of private property of racists, or the freedom of association of prejudiced groups wanting to exclude homosexuals for example, should no longer be protected when these racists and bigots have become so numerous and authoritative that the objects of their racism or bigotry no longer have any alternative options and risk having their own rights violated. In the Jim Crow era, for example, it was very difficult for blacks to move around, find decent housing etc. because there were so many transport companies and landowners discriminating against them that their options were seriously diminished. Hence their rights were violated, and violated to such a degree that limitations on the rights of their tormentors were justified.
Similarly, in our current example, hate speech should only be banned and the right to free speech of hate mongers should only be limited when there’s an impact on the rights of their targets. Claiming, as Waldron seems to do, that a tolerant society generally requires such bans and limits will not do. That’s just not enough as a justification. For example, writing blood libel on an obscure blog that nobody reads should probably not be prohibited. On the other hand, burning crosses in the front yards of black people and forcing them to move elsewhere is a violation of their right to freely choose their residence. The same is true if people dare not walk the streets because of the risk of being constantly cursed at. These two cases of expressions of hate speech can and should be banned because they result in rights violations. Other expressions of hate speech should be protected. A general claim that tolerance requires not just constraints on coercion and violent persecution but also a general respect for people’s dignity and a social atmosphere free of hatred, insult and defamation, goes too far. It would be nice if the world was free of hate and if respect for dignity was the normal attitude, but there’s no right to such a world. Nor should there be.
If we were to adopt such a right, we’d run the risk of terminating debate altogether. If tolerance includes a general ban on hate speech it’s likely that it will also imply banning vehement discussion of other people’s supposed errors. You don’t need to engage in hate speech in order to have a vehement and lively discussion and criticism of others, but a lot of such criticism can be readily understood and perceived by its targets as an expression of hate and an insult to dignity. These targets can then use the power of law to shut down the debate, and that’s not something we want. Ideally, specific instances of speech should not be judged as inadmissible instances of hate speech and proper objects of legal sanction simply on the basis of the feelings or perceptions of the targets, but only on the basis of the objective consequences for the rights of the targets. Tolerance that includes a ban on all hate speech is a tolerance that in the end may silence us all.
Now, I’m the first to criticize the gun culture in the U.S. and to warn against the dangers of a supposed “right to own a gun” (as you can see here and here), but it seems that our own side can also misunderstand what human rights are all about:
A deaf child named Hunter is not allowed to use his name sign because the sign for “Hunter” (a dictionary word) uses the thumb and first two fingers in a gun shape and suggests a shooting motion. Here’s the story.
These school officials have lost their ability to reason if they believe stripping a child of his name is necessary for safety … Apparently the idea that a pre-schooler’s fingers are as dangerous as a real gun is not beyond belief to some school bureaucrats. (source)
Although it is not stated in those terms, this is a case of human rights hysteria, and as such it has its rightful place in our series here, previously featuring people who claim that parents should be banned from play areas in order to protect children and others who zealously protect us against Sharia rule.
A similar one is here. One can question the wisdom of such campaigns, comparing violence to a healthy pastime. Even more dubious is the fact that these punching bags have been placed in the streets, not in order to “try them out” but some won’t be able to resist.
More human rights ads.
A number of crimes are also human rights violations, so crime rates can tell us something about the degree of respect for human rights. Unfortunately, as in most cases of rights measurement, crime measurement is difficult. I won’t discuss the usual difficulties here – underreporting by victims or relatives, lack of evidence, corrupt or inefficient police departments etc. Instead, I want to mention one particularly interesting problem that is seldom mentioned but possibly fatal for crime rate statistics: most reductions in crime rates are not really reductions, especially not those reductions that come about as a result of tougher law enforcement and higher incarceration rates. When we imprison criminals, rather than bringing crimes rates down, we just move the crime from society towards the prisons:
the figures that suggest that violence has been disappearing in the United States contain a blind spot so large that to cite them uncritically, as the major papers do, is to collude in an epic con. Uncounted in the official tallies are the hundreds of thousands of crimes that take place in the country’s prison system, a vast and growing residential network whose forsaken tenants increasingly bear the brunt of America’s propensity for anger and violence.
Crime has not fallen in the United States—it’s been shifted. Just as Wall Street connived with regulators to transfer financial risk from spendthrift banks to careless home buyers, so have federal, state, and local legislatures succeeded in rerouting criminal risk away from urban centers and concentrating it in a proliferating web of hyperhells. (source, source)
And there’s no way to correct for this and adjust overall crime rate statistics because quality statistics on crime rates inside prison are even harder to get than statistics on “normal” crime rates – given the quasi lawlessness of prison life.
Murder should be easy to measure. Unlike many other crimes or rights violations, the evidence is clear and painstakingly recorded: there is a body, at least in most cases; police seldom fail to notice a murder; and relatives or friends of the victim rarely fail to report the crime. So even if we are not always able to find and punish murderers, we should at least know how many murders there are.
And yet, even this most obvious of crimes can be hard to measure. In poorer countries, police departments may not have the means necessary to record homicides correctly and completely. Families may be weary of reporting homicides for fear of corrupt police officers entering their homes and using the occasion to extort bribes. Civil wars make it difficult to collect any data, including crime data. During wartime, homicides may not be distinguishable from casualties of the war.
And there’s more. Police departments in violent places may be under pressure to bring down crime stats and may manipulate the data as a result: moving some dubious murder cases to categories such as “accidents”, “manslaughter”, “suicide” etc.
Homicides usually take place in cities, hence the temptation to rank cities according to homicide rates. But cities differ in the way they determine their borders: suburbs may be included or not, or partially, and this affects homicide rates since suburbs tend to be less violent. Some cities have more visitors than other cities (more commuters, tourists, business trips) and visitors are usually not counted as “population” while they may also be at risk of murder.
In addition, some ideologies may cause distortions in the data. Does abortion count as murder? Honor killings? Euthanasia and assisted suicide? Laws and opinions about all this vary between jurisdictions and introduce biases in country comparisons.
And, finally, countries with lower murder rates may not be less violent; they may just have better emergency healthcare systems allowing them to save potential murder victims.
So, if even the most obvious of human rights violations is difficult to measure, you can guess the quality of other indicators.
More posts in this series are here.
When the young Mao Tse-tung agitated for revolution, he found a vivid way to get his point across to an uneducated audience: He picked up a single chopstick and snapped it in two. Then he picked up a handful of chopsticks: They would not break. Thus he showed that so long as everyone stood side by side, no force could withstand the tide of revolution. By gathering together China’s scattered, indignant chopsticks, Mao finally was able to ascend Tiananmen—the Gate of Heavenly Peace — on Oct. 1, 1949, and announce the establishment of his republic. Whether chopsticks come singly or in a handful is now an issue in China again. Mao’s successors, however, do the opposite of what he advocated, mobilizing immense resources to keep chopsticks from gathering together. The government knows that angry chopsticks are everywhere, but as long as they stay scattered, it believes it can break them in two, whatever their numbers. (source)
This is reminiscent of Hannah Arendt’s theory about the difference between power and violence. Read it here.
I argued before that morality can be and often has been the cause of a lot of evil in the world. The conviction of knowing what is good and right can lead to violent coercion of others who don’t conform to certain ideals. At the very least, moral certainty inhibits cooperation and compromise. Hence the claim by George Carlin:
I think motivation is overrated. You show me some lazy prick who’s lying around all day watching game shows and stroking his penis and I’ll show you someone who’s not causing any fucking trouble!
An interesting story in the press some time ago:
A former nurse from Faribault, Minn., was convicted of two felonies Tuesday when a judge ruled he had used “repeated and relentless” tactics during Internet chats that coaxed two people to kill themselves.
Rice County District Judge Thomas Neuville found that William Melchert-Dinkel, 48, “imminently incited” the suicides of Mark Drybrough of Coventry, England, and Nadia Kajouji of Ottawa, Ontario. Drybrough, 32, hanged himself in 2005, and Kajouji, 18, jumped into a frozen river in 2008.
In a 42-page ruling that found Melchert-Dinkel guilty of two counts of felony advising and encouraging suicide, Neuville wrote that it was particularly disturbing that Melchert-Dinkel, posing as a young, suicidal, female nurse, tried to persuade the victims to hang themselves while he watched via webcam….
Neuville, in rejecting the free-speech defense, noted that inciting people to commit suicide is considered “Lethal Advocacy,” which isn’t protected by the First Amendment because it goes against the government’s compelling interest in protecting the lives of vulnerable citizens. (source, source)
I guess that’s correct, even though the case doesn’t really fit with any of the commonly accepted exceptions to free speech rights. We’re not dealing here with incitement to murder or a death threat – standard exceptions to free speech, even in the U.S. And neither is it speech that incites illegal activity – another accepted exception. Suicide isn’t murder and isn’t illegal (anymore). Abstract and general advocacy of crime and violence is – or should be – protected speech, but not the advocacy or incitement of specific and imminent crime or violence if this advocacy or incitement helps to produce the crime or violence. If speech intends to produce specific illegal or violent actions, and if, as a result of this speech, these actions are imminent and likely, then we have a good reason to limit freedom of speech. Examples of such speech:
- solicitation of a murder
- some types of death threat
- cheering on a criminal
- speech that constitutes aiding and abetting of criminal conduct etc.
None of these forms of speech should be protected, and laws making them illegal are perfectly OK. On the other hand, claiming that all politicians deserve to die or that people shouldn’t pay their taxes are, in most cases, forms of protected speech because they probably do not incite or help to bring about imminent lawless activity.
The problem is that none of this is applicable here. Suicide isn’t illegal, and neither is it violence as we normally understand the word. So, the commonly accepted exception to free speech rights that I just cited can’t possibly justify the conviction of Melchert-Dinkel. He did of course advocate, incite and cheer on his victims, and his advocacy, incitement and cheering probably helped to produce their suicides. But a suicide is not a crime or an act of violence. At least not as such. One could argue that the encouragement of a suicidal person should be viewed as a form of murder. And if that statement goes too far for you, you may want to consider the fact that causing someone else’s death is in general a crime, whichever way you do it. Moreover, if the victims in this case were suffering from depression or a mental illness, the state has a duty to provide healthcare, and allowing someone else to worsen their depression or illness to the point that they kill themselves is not consistent with this duty.
So, while the encouragement of suicide in general, the teaching the methods of suicide or the claim that non-suicidal people should go and kill themselves (“you don’t deserve to live”, “why don’t you just go and kill yourself”) are all forms of protected speech, the same is not the case for speech that encourages specific suicidal people to kill themselves.
As a bonus, I can’t not post this image of what some have called the most beautiful suicide (a description that is in no way meant to glorify or encourage suicide):
On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale jumped to her death from the observation deck of the Empire State Building, landing on a car. Here is a close-up of her face:
Read the whole story here.
Apparently, it’s more dangerous to be a male black person in NYC than a person of any other race or gender:
(source, where you can find an interactive version of these maps)
African Americans represent only 25% of NYCs population, but 61% of murder victims. The racial distribution of the perpetrators is strikingly similar to the racial distribution of the victims; and men are not only the main victims but also the perpetrators in 92% of cases.
A note of caution: correlation doesn’t imply causation. In this case, this means that the race of most of the perpetrators shouldn’t lead you to the conclusion that black people are more likely to engage in murder because they are black. A third element, hidden in the correlation and more common among blacks, is most probably the cause of the high murder rate (perhaps poverty). In which case, distorted homicide rates may be a symptom of racism and discrimination.
Another note of caution: a common feature of a lot of statistical data in map form is that they exaggerate the prevalence of the phenomenon that is measured, and so it is with these images of murder in NYC. The town is full of it, if you can believe the images. But that’s obviously not true. 500 or so homicides per year, on a total population of 8 million, amounts to one murder per 16.000 people, only slightly higher than the 1 in 18.000 for the US nationwide (it’s not surprising that it’s higher for a densely populated urban area).
Also, the numbers have trended downwards in NYC:
Apparently the same pattern can be seen in Chicago:
And Washington DC as well – data are here:
(source, where you can find an interactive version)
Just because nobody complains does not mean all parachutes are perfect. Benny Hill
A nice illustration of this piece of wisdom:
Using state-level variation in the timing of political reforms, we find that an increase in female representation in local government induces a large and significant rise in documented crimes against women in India. Our evidence suggests that this increase is good news, driven primarily by greater reporting rather than greater incidence of such crimes. (source)
The cited “increase in female representation in local government” resulted from a constitutional amendment requiring Indian states to have women in one-third of local government council positions.
Since then, documented crimes against women have risen by 44 percent, rapes per capita by 23 percent, and kidnapping of women by 13 percent. (source)
This uptick is probably not retaliatory – male “revenge” for female empowerment – but rather the result of the fact that more women in office has led to more crime reporting. Worse is therefore not worse. A timely reminder of the difficulties measuring human rights violations. Measurements often depend on reporting, and reporting can be influenced, for good and for bad. Also, a good lesson about the danger of taking figures at face value.
WARNING: this video is disturbing, and meant to be.
(imagine if land mines were a part of your everyday)
From an advocacy standpoint, this is probably way over the top. Some would call it badvertising and, indeed, I don’t see the need to shock people in this way in order to raise consciousness. More on landmines here. More human rights videos here.
- Denmark against landmines : Picnic gone wrong [Video] (scaryideas.com)
- Picnic gone wrong (osocio.org)
- U.S. still undecided on joining landmines treaty (reuters.com)
A recent US Supreme Court ruling invalidated a California law that banned the sale of certain violent video games to children on the grounds that the law violated freedom of speech. The controversy is an old one, and goes roughly as follows. Proponents of laws banning violent media – especially the sale of violent media to children – point to different studies arguing that violence in media promotes violence in real life and that children in particular are at risk of becoming violent adults. Since people have a right to be protected against violence and children have a right not to suffer the psychological harm that purportedly comes from the consumption of violent games, we have here a case of rights conflicting with each other: on the one hand the free speech rights of the makers and sellers of games, and on the other hand the security rights of the potential victims of violent behavior provoked by the consumption of violent games, as well as the mental health rights of the consumers of those games. Hence, one of those rights should give way to the other rights.
Proponents of restrictions of free speech in this case argue that a prohibition of the sale of violent games to children is the best option since the speech value of a violent video game is small, and since producers of such games still have the freedom of “artistic expression” because they can still sell to adults. The cost of limiting free speech in this case is small compared to the gains in terms of physical security and psychological health. And there are precedents such as movie ratings.
The opponents of limitations on free speech can also point to studies showing the absence of an effect on real life violence or even the opposite effect – the so-called “pressure valve theory“. They can also use the slippery slope argument and claim that the sale of many classical works of fiction should then also be prohibited on the same grounds, since they also contain scenes of violence.
The US Supreme court sided with the opponents, unsurprisingly given the near absolutism of free speech protection in the US (only a couple of exceptions to free speech are recognized in US jurisprudence, and expression of violence isn’t one of them).
While I personally find US free speech jurisprudence difficult to accept and generally hypocritical – why can obscene material be censored but not violent material? – I think in this case the SCOTUS decision is probably right. The psychological evidence does not, as far as I can tell, clearly show an effect of media violence on real life violence, and even if there is a small effect, a general prohibition on violence in media probably goes too far, as does a general prohibition on the sale of media containing violence. Even a prohibition on the sale of such material to children is probably too much, even given the fact that children are more impressionable. Violence has many causes, and the “pressure valve” theory has some intuitive appeal (also in the case of pornography by the way). A rating system, allowing parents to do their job, is probably better.
For some reason, my older posts on rioting are now immensely popular. So here’s an overview:
I’m not in the mood for serious analyses, but I do want to warn against simplistic explanations involving the words “poverty” and “multicultural”. (See also here). Those types of punditry are usually way off the mark.
I’ve argued many times before that the link between immigration and crime is a particularly nasty piece of political cynicism and populism, completely fact-free but unfortunately not devoid of harmful consequences. Three different groups suffer these consequences:
- potential migrants who have beneficial opportunities taken away from them
- existing migrants who are unfairly targeted by law enforcement
- and the native populations who also can’t benefit from increased immigration.
Here’s one sickening cartoon in map form, claiming that Mexico, following the example of Colombia, is drowning in blood, and that the blood is spilling across the border, when in fact immigration reduces crime rates:
Asking people if they think some types of human rights violations are acceptable is one way to measure levels of respect for human rights. Although not all those who think such violations are acceptable will actually engage in them, it’s clear a certain number of them will; and almost all of them will tolerate violations and fail to report them. Hence, perceptions of acceptability of violations – captured by way of surveys – are a good indication of prevalence of violations, and while they cannot provide exact figures on the numbers of violations, they can yield interesting cross-country comparisons.
Here’s an example about domestic violence:
(source, click image to enlarge)
Domestic violence – which in most cases means men physically harming women (either their wives or daughters) – has a number of human rights implications. It is obviously a violation of the right to bodily integrity, and possibly the right to life. But it also serves to maintain a patriarchal system of gender inequality and discrimination.
Matters are made worse by the reluctance of many governments to interfere in families’ private affairs, perhaps on account of some misunderstood respect for the right to privacy – although the more likely reason is gender prejudice among those who legislate and make policy. For example, most countries have no legislation outlawing marital rape, and those who have often fail to enforce it:
(source, click image to enlarge)
Legislation can apparently make a difference:
Less people think domestic violence is acceptable in countries that have legislation against it. However, it’s not clear which way the causation goes: a widely shared belief that domestic violence is unacceptable can be caused by legislation, but legislation can also be the effect of beliefs. And if less women report domestic violence in countries that have legislation, it may be due to the fact that legislation deters violence, but it may also be the case that countries that have legislation had a prior culture that is less accepting of domestic violence.
By the way, the numbers of women reporting domestic violence isn’t necessarily a better indicator or measurement basis of domestic violence. After all, when domestic violence is widespread, it will deter reporting. So less reporting of domestic violence can paradoxically indicate a higher prevalence.
More posts about problems with human rights measurement are here.
The standard view of human rights is that they are intended as regulators of conflicting norms and practices. And, indeed, they seem quite useless and out of place in settings in which people agree, hold the same religious convictions and aren’t intent on attacking each others’ lives and possessions.
“Regulators” in this sense doesn’t mean that rights solve conflicts between norms and practices. They can’t do that because then they would have to change those norms and practices, and they don’t. What they do is pacify and civilize conflicts: they force conflicting parties to extend some measure of respect to the opposing norm or practice, and to refrain from physical or legal attacks, violence and suppression. For example, when different forms of speech come into conflict with each other, neither side in the conflict has a right to suppress the speech of the other side or to violently attack the other speakers.
A somewhat less simplistic view of human rights, but also a less common one, is that these rights don’t just regulate conflict but actively promote it. By taking the sting out of conflict, one obviously encourages conflict. Usually, when an activity becomes less risky, it becomes more common.
Why would there be a need to encourage conflict? One reason has to do with the notion of the marketplace of ideas: only an idea that has survived the onslaught of a large number of opposing arguments can be a good idea.
And then there’s another, even more sophisticated – some say perverted – view of human rights, one that sees beyond the conflicts that these rights are supposed to regulate and/or promote, and that focuses on the role of rights in providing the prerequisites for the appearance and development of conflicting norms and practices. Without this understanding of rights it’s difficult to make sense of rights such as the right to healthcare, the right to a certain standard of living and the right to education. Those are all rights that don’t regulate conflict but instead allow people to acquire and develop norms and practices.
The Wikileaks Iraq war logs have made it possible to map the occurrence of violent death during the Iraq war:
(source, where you can zoom in on the map)
This follows more or less closely the population density of Iraq, meaning that the war has been equally horrible for everyone, with the exception of some parts of the north of the country where violent death has been somewhat less common:
Some key figures:
- The Wikileaks database records 109,032 deaths in total, 66,081 civilians, 23,984 insurgents and 15,196 Iraqi security forces. Baghdad alone saw 45,497 casualties. Colation forces lost 3,771 soldiers in the period covered.
- There were 65,439 IED explosions (improvised explosive devices), resulting in 31,780 deaths. Another 44,620 IEDs were found and cleared.
- Here’s how some of these numbers evolved over time:
These numbers are probably low estimates because not every event is recorded.
Let’s focus on Baghdad for an instant, the epicenter of violence. December 2006 was the worst month. Below are the details of one of the city’s deadliest days, Dec. 20. There were 114 separate episodes of violence that day, resulting in the deaths of about 160 Iraqi citizens and police officers (an interactive version of the map is here).
(source, click image to enlarge)
- Iraq War logs released by Wikileaks shed new light (flowingdata.com)
- “Wikileaks Iraq War Logs – Part Two” and related posts (googlemapsmania.blogspot.com)
A case similar to this one:
Derby, Kansas, high school sophomore Jonathan Villarreal was walking to the bus after school when a police officer ordered him to pull his pants up above his hips. Jonathan refused, on the grounds that the school day was over. …
[Villarreal] said one of the officers, a man who was larger than him, pulled him to the ground by the neck and told him to stop resisting arrest. Villarreal denied he was resisting.
Both officers kneed him in the back and neck while he was on the ground, he said.
Because they were physical with him, he struggled to get up, but was pushed back down, he said.
At one point as he tried to get up, Villarreal said he felt his arm break when he was pushed back down.
More absurd human rights violations here.
Some of the consequences of hate speech are human rights violations; others are not. Only the former are good reasons to criminalize hate speech and carve out an exception to the right to free speech. Rights can only be limited for the sake of other rights or the rights of others (more here). Let’s go over the different possible consequences of hate speech and see whether or not they imply rights violations.
Hate speech lowers self-esteem in the targets. People who are repeatedly subjected to hateful remarks or jokes about their race, gender, sexual orientation etc. tend to develop feelings of inferiority, stress, fear and depression. Of course, there’s no right not to be depressed, fearful, stressed etc. Therefore, we can say that hate speech should be protected speech when its consequences are limited to these. These are harmful and brutal consequences, but not harmful or brutal enough to be rights violations. We should be concerned about them and try to do something, but this “something” doesn’t include limiting free speech rights. However, people who are extremely intimidated and stressed and who have a deeply negative view of themselves tend to isolate themselves. Isolation isn’t a human rights violation, but couldn’t we argue that willfully isolating people means violating some of their rights? Isolated people don’t speak, assemble, associate etc. In that case, we could argue for limits on the rights of hate mongers.
Hate speech often has even more extreme consequences. Targets of hate speech may feel compelled to leave their homes and move elsewhere, to quit their jobs, and to avoid certain parts of town and public areas. This is a direct violation of their freedom of movement, freedom of residence, right to work and possibly even their right to a certain standard of living. It’s obvious that the free speech rights of the haters should in such cases be deemed less important than the many rights of their victims.
Hate speech can also means invasion of privacy, for example in the case of repeated phone calls, hate mail, or stalking.
Violations of property rights are another possible consequence of hate speech. Hate speech sometimes means vandalism, graffiti (sometimes even inside the homes of the targets), cross burning in someone’s front lawn etc. These cases of hate speech already start to resemble hate crime.
The line between hate speech and hate crime is even thinner when speech is not just hateful but an incitement to violence. For example, hate speech can provoke race riots; it can help hate groups with an existing tendency toward violence to attract new recruits etc. (a larger group will feel more confident to engage in hate violence). And what if hate speech allows hate groups to gain control of (local) government? That would probably lead to discriminating policies and laws.
This overview of possible and actual consequences of hate speech should concern those of us who care about more human rights than just freedom of speech, and who know that different human rights aren’t always in harmony with each other. In some circumstances, some rights need to give way in order to protect other rights. That’s an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of the value pluralism inherent in the system of human rights.
Read more posts in this series here.
- Rashad Robinson: ‘Dr. Laura’ Is No Free Speech Victim (huffingtonpost.com)
- Media Watchdogs Ask FCC to Track Internet Hate Speech (reason.com)
We’re all aware of the horrors of recent history. The 20th century doesn’t get a good press. And yet, most of us still think that humanity is, on average, much better off today than it was some centuries or millennia ago. The holocaust, Rwanda, Hiroshima, AIDS, terrorism etc. don’t seem to have discouraged the idea of human progress in popular imagination. Those have been disasters of biblical proportions, and yet they are seen as temporary lapses, regrettable but exceptional incidents that did not jeopardize the overall positive evolution of mankind. Some go even further and call these events instances of “progressive violence”: disasters so awful that they bring about progress. Hitler was necessary in order to finally make Germany democratic. The Holocaust was necessary to give the Jews their homeland and the world the Universal Declaration. Evil has to become so extreme that it finally convinces humanity that evil should be abolished.
While that is obviously ludicrous, it’s true that there has been progress:
- we did practically abolish slavery
- torture seems to be much less common and much more widely condemned, despite the recent uptick
- poverty is on the retreat
- equality has come within reach for non-whites, women and minorities of different kinds
- there’s a real reduction in violence over the centuries
- war is much less common and much less bloody
- more and more countries are democracies and freedom is much more widespread
- there’s more free speech because censorship is much more difficult now thanks to the internet
- health and labor conditions have improved for large segments of humanity, resulting in booming life expectancy
So, for a number of human rights, things seem to be progressing quite a lot. Of course, there are some areas of regress: the war on terror, gendercide, islamism etc. Still, those things don’t seem to be weighty enough to discourage the idea of progress, which is still quite popular. On the other hand, some human rights violations were caused by elements of human progress. The Holocaust, for example, would have been unimaginable outside of our modern industrial society. Hiroshima and Mutually Assured Destruction are other examples. Both nazism and communism are “progressive” philosophies in the sense that they believe that they are working for a better society.
Whatever the philosophical merits of the general idea of progress, progress in the field of respect for human rights boils down to a problem of measurement. How doe we measure the level of respect for the whole of the set of human rights? It’s difficult enough to measure respect for the present time, let alone for previous periods in human history for which data are incomplete or even totally absent. Hence, general talk about progress in the field of human rights is probably impossible. More specific measurements of parts of the system of human rights are more likely to succeed, but only for relatively recent time frames.
More posts in this series are here.
- Human Rights and Utopia (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
My two cents about the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords:
- The attack was obviously politically inspired, even though the shooter may have been insane. An insane act isn’t necessarily apolitical. There may or may not be a direct causal link between the attack and the “heated political rhetoric” that has come to characterize American politics and that often borders on incitement. (Compared to other western democracies, the political language is indeed extreme in the US). If there is such a link, it will be very hard to establish, given what we know about the psychology of the attacker.
- In general, violent rhetoric can contribute to actual violence (see this paper for example). The case of the Rwanda genocide is well-known. And we don’t need to go and look at extremes in order to find cases of hate speech turning into hate crime. There are not a few pedophiles who have had there whereabouts shouted from the rooftops and who suffered the consequences. Given the omnipresence and ease-of-use of the media in developed societies, what is published and broadcast through these media may very well nurture or even provoke extremism and hate in society. It’s futile to deny this possibility.
- This general conclusion does not warrant the automatic linking of a case of violence to instances of political rhetoric that seem to be a possible inspiration. In other words, it’s not because Sarah Palin was silly enough to publish a map with cross-hairs “targeting” Giffords (among others) in a purely political and non-violent way, that her actions caused the attack. Maybe these actions contributed, maybe not. Most likely we’ll never know. And even if they did contribute in driving a sick person over the edge – which is not impossible – then they are most likely only one element in a large set of causal factors, including the perpetrator’s education, medical care (or lack thereof), the ease with which he could acquire a gun etc. That large set doesn’t drown individual causes but it does diminish the importance of each (possible) cause. Human motivation and the determinants of human action are almost always highly complex. (Something which is too often forgotten in criminal sentencing).
- Given the general possibility of speech resulting in violence, is that possibility a sufficient reason to limit our freedom of speech, even before the actual violence occurs? Yes, but only in very specific cases, namely those cases in which the link between speech and (possible) violence is clear. John Stuart Mill used the example of an excited mob assembled in front of the house of a corn dealer accused of starving the poor. Hate speech in such a setting is likely to lead to violence, while the exact same words printed in an obscure magazine are not. The words in the magazine should be protected by freedom of speech; the words of the mob leaders probably not.
- Yet even when words should be left free by the law, morality requires of speakers that they consider the possible consequences of speech.
- Are the events we witnessed recently of the same nature as the words of the mob leaders? And what about similar recent events? I don’t think so. Which means that the people concerned have not abused their freedom of speech.
- Does that mean that they used their freedom in a good way? No, it doesn’t. Heated rhetoric is almost never the best way to talk, not even for the purposes of the speaker. It doesn’t tend to accomplish a lot or to further anyone’s interests (apart from the interest in getting attention). So those of us who insist on “turning it down a notch” have good reasons to do so. This insistence obviously doesn’t imply curtailment. It’s just a question, and it deals with form rather than content. People are generally too fast to claim their right to free speech when confronted with criticism of the way in which they use or abuse this right. Criticism of speech doesn’t automatically imply the will to prohibit speech, and freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from criticism. Quite the opposite.
- The Most Absurd Human Rights Violations (65): Beat Them But Don’t Leave Marks (filipspagnoli.wordpress.com)
Anger over a Memphis teenager’s sagging pants ended with gunfire, a bullet to the buttocks and an aggravated assault charge.
Police Sgt. Ron Perry says 45-year-old Kenneth E. Bonds saw two male teens walking along a street and yelled at them to pull up their pants.
Perry says they refused, the three began arguing and Bonds brandished a pistol.
The first shot missed. The teens fled, more rounds were fired and a 17-year-old was struck in the buttocks. He went to a hospital in non-critical condition. (source)
I presented some data debunking the criminal immigrant stereotype a few times already. It’s simply not true that immigration leads to an increase in crime rates. True, immigrants are often – but not always – relatively poor, undereducated and – initially at least – not well adjusted to their host community. But none of that seems to be a sufficient reason for higher crime rates among immigrants.
On the contrary, there’s some evidence here of immigration actually reducing crime rates:
During the 1990s, immigration reached record highs and crime rates fell more precipitously than at any time in U.S. history. And cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in rates of homicide and robbery. … Wadsworth contends that looking at crime statistics at a single point in time can’t explain the cause of crime rates.
Using such snapshots in time, Wadsworth finds that cities with larger foreign-born and new-immigrant populations do have higher rates of violent crime. But many factors—including economic conditions—influence crime rates.
If higher rates of immigration were boosting crime rates, one would expect long-term studies to show crime rising and falling over time with the influx and exodus of immigrants. Instead, Wadsworth found the opposite. (source)
There’s yet another study here showing that Hispanic Americans are less violent than whites or blacks.
A simple juxtaposition of immigration trends and crime trends can already make clear how silly it is to claim that higher immigration rates produce higher crime rates:
What could be the explanation? Why does immigration reduce crime rates? Maybe the culture and religion of the immigrants has something to do with it. Or maybe it’s true that people migrate because they want to have a better life, and that engaging in crime is incompatible with this motivation. Or perhaps the fact that immigrants tend to live in extended families and close-knit communities discourages crime.
I’ve said it before: although correlation doesn’t always equal causation, these numbers are compelling, even if we accept some possible caveats (illegal immigrants, when committing a crime, are perhaps more likely to flee abroad and hence not end up in incarceration statistics, and there may be some underreporting of crime in communities with a lot of illegal immigrants). Politicians should therefore stop exploiting irrational fears about immigrant crime for their own partisan gain. You don’t solve the crime problem by closing the border, and certainly not by ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence.
- Massive Drop in Crime Accompanies Major Wave of Immigration (criminaljustice.change.org)
- Fox: Confusion on illegal immigrants, crime (boston.com)
- New study on challenges ‘immigrant criminality’ theory (thegrio.com)
- more illegal immigrants does NOT = more violent crime (schansblog.blogspot.com)
An “honor killing” gang murdered a married couple in their home when they set fire to the wrong house. Abdullah Mohammed and wife Aysha [not in the image] suffocated after petrol was poured through their letterbox and set alight by the gang of young men. …
Four men were yesterday found guilty of murdering the husband and wife, including 21-year-old gang leader Hisamuddin Ibrahim who had intended to attack a man who was having an affair with his married sister. (source)
- Journalist: Women raped at Abu Ghraib were later ‘honor killed’ (angryindian.blogspot.com)
- Honor killings (thehill.com)
- Editorial: Only Horror in ‘Honor Killings’ (nytimes.com)
The image of firefighter Chris Fields holding the dying infant Baylee Almon won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1996. Two people, Lester LaRue and Charles Porter, standing just three feet apart, took almost the same image yet it was Charles Porter’s image that won the Pulitzer.
This video makes the case that there is a strong link between poverty and terrorism, but I think the link isn’t all that strong (see here and here). A much stronger argument made in the video is the effect of the war on terror. This war seems to communicate the message that the West doesn’t care about civilian victims, so why should terrorists care? The video also focuses on the religious causes of terrorist violence. Religion does play a role, of course, but we shouldn’t forget that many suicide attacks took place in Sri Lanka for example, and those weren’t religiously motivated.
It’s shouldn’t be surprising that there are so many human rights violations. Psychologists have shown how easy it is to induce cruelty, prejudice and hate. There’s for example the famous Milgram experiment. People seem to be very obedient to authority figures, even if they are told to be cruel to other people (giving them electric shocks in this case; the shocks were fake but the subjects didn’t know that). Milgram’s test suggested that the millions of accomplices in the Holocaust were violent and cruel because they were following orders. Authority made them do things that violated their deepest moral beliefs. If you see how much pain people are willing to inflict on another person they don’t even know, simply because they are ordered to by an experimental scientist, you can imagine how easy it is for real authority figures to “convince” them. Which doesn’t mean that ordinary perpetrators of genocide or other acts of cruelty are guiltless tools of central command.
(The Milgram experiment was recently “reproduced” in a game show on television).
A similar experiment is the Hofling hospital experiment. Nurses were ordered by unknown doctors to administer what could have been a dangerous dose of a (fictional) drug to their patients. In spite of official guidelines forbidding administration in such circumstances, Hofling found that 21 out of the 22 nurses would have given the patient an overdose of medicine, even though they were aware of the dangers.
Then there are the Asch conformity experiments. One subject and a series of fake subjects were asked a variety of questions about an image containing lines, such as how long is A, compare the length of A to an everyday object, which line is longer than the other, which lines are the same length, etc. The group was told to announce their answers to each question out loud. The fake subjects always provided their answers before the study participant, and always gave the same answer as each other. They answered a few questions correctly but eventually began providing incorrect responses. You wouldn’t expect a majority of people to conform to something obviously wrong, such as “line A is longer than line B” when it’s clear to the eye that the opposite is the case. However, when surrounded by individuals all voicing such an incorrect answer, many participants also provided incorrect responses. This kind of group pressure and tendency to conform can explain mob violence and government organized genocide.
In the Stanford prison experiment, also called the Zimbardo experiment, people were selected to play the roles of guards and prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond what was expected. The guards became authoritarian and effected draconian, sadistic and abusive measures which were even accepted by the suffering prisoners.
And, finally, there is the Third Wave experiment demonstrating the appeal of fascism for ordinary people.
These social psychology experiments show that government efforts to mandate and enforce cruelty, prejudice, racism, hate and even genocide fall on fertile grounds. Human nature’s dark side seems to lurk just below the surface, ready to come out, and merely awaiting the wink of the boss or the group. A negative dialectic quickly settles in between government prejudice and private prejudice.
9/11 and other terrorist attacks apparently motivated by Islamic beliefs has led to an increased hostility towards Islam, but also towards religion in general. Perhaps in an effort to avoid the charge of islamophobia, many anti-jihadists have taken a new look at the violent history of other religions, particularly Christianity, and concluded that religion per se, because of the concomitant belief in the absolute truth of God’s words and rules, automatically leads to the violent imposition of this belief on unwilling fellow human beings, or – if that doesn’t work – the murderous elimination of persistent sinners. This has given rise to a movement called the new atheists. The charge of fanatical and violent absolutism inherent in religion is of course an old one, but it has been revitalized after 9/11 and the war on terror. I think it’s no coincidence that many of the new atheists are also anti-jihadists (take Christopher Hitchens for example).
There are many things wrong with question in the title of this blogpost. (And – full disclosure – this isn’t part of a self-interested defense of religion, since I’m an agnostic). First of all, it glosses over the fact that there isn’t such a thing as “religion”. There are many religions, and perhaps it can be shown that some of them produce a disproportionate level of violence, but religion as such is a notoriously vague concept. Nobody seems to agree on what it is. Even the God-entity isn’t a required element of the definition of religion, except if you want to take the improbable position that Buddhism isn’t a religion. All sorts of things can reasonably be put in the container concept of “religion” – the Abrahamic religions as well as Wicca and Jediism. The claim that “religion is violent” implies that all or most religions are equally violent, which is demonstrably false.
That leaves the theoretical possibility that some religions are more violent than others. If that claim can be shown to be true, islamophobia may perhaps be a justified opinion, but not the outright rejection of religion inherent in new atheism (which, of course, has other arguments against religion besides religion’s supposed violent character). However, how can it be shown empirically and statistically that a certain religion – say Islam – is relatively more violent than other religions? In order to do so you would need to have data showing that Islam today (or, for that matter, Christianity in the age of the crusades and the inquisition) is the prime or sole motive behind a series of violent attacks. But how do you know that the violent actor was motivated solely or primarily by his religious beliefs? Because he has a Muslim name? Speaks Arabic? Looks a certain way? Professes his religious motivation? All that is not enough to claim that he wasn’t motivated by a combination of religious beliefs and political or economic grievances for instance, or by something completely unconnected to religion, despite his statements to the contrary.
Now let’s assume, arguendo, that this isn’t a problem, and that it is relatively easy and feasible to identify a series of violent attacks that are indisputably motivated solely or primarily by certain religious beliefs. How can you go from such a series to a quantified comparison that says “the religion behind this series of attacks – say again Islam – is particularly violent”? That seems to be an unwarranted generalization based on a sample that is by definition very small (given the long history of most religions and the lack of data on motivations, especially for times that have long since passed). Also, it supposes a comparison with other causes of violence, for example other religions, other non-religious belief systems, character traits, economic circumstances etc. After all, the point of this hypothetical study is not to show that (a) religion can lead to bad things. That’s seldom disputed. Everything can lead to bad things, including fanatical atheism (and don’t tell me communism and fascism were “really” religions; the word “religion” is vague, but probably not as vague as that – which doesn’t mean that there aren’t any religious elements in those two world-views). The claim we’re discussing here is that (a) religion – because of its fanatical absolutism and trust in God’s truth – is particularly violent, i.e. more violent than other belief systems, and hence very dangerous and to be repudiated.
I think it’s useless, from a purely mathematical and scientific point of view, to engage in such a comparative quantification, given the obvious problems of identifying true motivations, especially for long periods of time in the past. There’s just no way that you can measure religious violence, compare it to “other violence”, and claim it is more (or less) violent. So the question in the title is a nonsensical one, I think, even if you limit it to one particular religion rather than to religion in general. That doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful to know the religious motives of certain particular acts of violence. It’s always good to know the motives of violence if you want to do something about it. What it means is that such knowledge is no reason to generalize on the violent nature of a religion, let alone religion as such. That would not only obscure other motives – which is never helpful – but it would also defy our powers of quantification.
In the movie Untraceable, a serial killer rigs contraptions that kill his victims based on the number of hits received by a website (“www.killwithme.com“) that features a live streaming video of the victim dying. Millions of people log on, hastening the victims’ violent deaths. The manner of murder is typically a slow process, for example putting the victim in water and replacing the water with acid. Every single website visit add a tiny amount of acid.
The movie writers assume, quite explicitly, that the serial killer has primary moral responsibility for the deaths and that the website visitors are mere accessories. However, one could plausibly argue that the serial killer is responsible only for kidnapping and hostage taking since he does not himself act in a way that leads to the murder. In that case, the group of visitors of the website is the primary or even sole perpetrator of the murders. On the other hand, one could argue that every single visitor’s contribution to the murder is insignificantly small. When the victim dies or is set to die after 10.000.000 visitors, for example, is doesn’t matter much if the 8 millionth visitor visited or not. Perhaps the 10 millionth visitor is responsible, but the script of the movie doesn’t make it clear that the threshold of number of visitors required for killing the victim is set in advance. On the contrary, the script suggests that even the kidnapper (let’s not call him killer just yet) can’t tell in advance which exact number of visitors is required to kill them victim.
So who do you think carries prime responsibility for the murder? The kidnapper? The entire group of visitors, and equally so (meaning the first visitor just as much as the last)? The last visitor (who can’t possibly know before visiting that his or her visit will be the final straw)? An indeterminate group of visitors who visit near the final moments of the victim (as the progress of the murder is streamed live on the internet, late visitors can see that death is imminent)?
More moral dilemmas (which are still open to votes by the way).
Of course, wearing a t-shirt, and even throwing wine at someone isn’t a violation of human rights, but it is indicative of the treatment of some Palestinians by some Israelis. Obviously, I don’t want to imply that there isn’t disgusting behavior on the other side, or that Israel is exclusively responsible for all or even most violations of human rights in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Far from it. Just as a blog post about Guantanamo doesn’t imply neglect of the evils of terrorism. A balanced and objective overview of human rights violations in the conflict in the Middle East is here.
Other iconic images of human rights violations are here.
A bit more about the proper role of religion in a modern democracy (see here for the original post I’m building on). I know it’s making things more simple than they actually are, but one can see the history of modern democracy as a continuing and progressive effort of the law and government policy to escape from religion. The religious wars of 16th and 17th centuries convinced the states of Europe that they had no choice but to put themselves above the factions. Only by loosening their ties with a favored religion and guaranteeing a free space for every religion and for equal liberty of worship, were they able to channel religious competition away from violence. As religion had become a dangerous and dividing power, it became clear that the state had to separate itself from the church, not only to keep the peace, but also to maintain itself.
The U.S. constitution later followed, inspired by the characteristic religious diversity of the U.S., itself the result of imperfect religious liberty in Europe. In the U.S., the separation of church and state was instituted in the First Amendment, more specifically the part of the Amendment called the “establishment clause” (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”). Religious liberty and the equal respect for all religions was also instituted in the First Amendment (more specifically in the part called the “free exercise clause“: “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]“). Obviously, separation and religious liberty interact, but I’ll focus first on separation, and then later I’ll discuss how separation influences liberty.
So the effort of western democratic states to separate themselves from religion is not based on a negative value judgment about religion as such, but simply on the need for peaceful coexistence, tolerance and mutual respect between religions, and this tolerance and respect should promote the rights to equal liberty of all religions. Separation of church and state is therefore a means to protect religious liberty. By removing its ties to a favored religion, a state is no longer tempted to impose that religion and persecute other religions. It will also stop favoring the official religion and imposing a competitive disadvantage on non-official religions.
And this need for peaceful coexistence, tolerance and respect will only become more important in an age in which global mobility and globalization encourage coexistence of and hence competition between different religions. If a multicultural state today aligns itself with one particular religion, even in a very loose way, it will squander its authority as a neutral arbiter between religions and as a peacemaker, and it will undo equal religious liberty because its association with one religion will necessarily favor this religion and give it more power and hence more freedom.
The question whether there should be separation is settled in all modern democracies, precisely because of the salience of these reasons. Sure, other reasons for and justifications of separation are cited as well, and can be just as convincing to some: laws based on one religion should be rejected because they show disrespect to people adhering to other religions, or these people will fail to see the legitimacy of these laws; in the words of Rawls, laws should be grounded in reasons that are accessible to “common human reason”, i.e. secular reason; religiously inspired laws often imply violations of fundamental rights etc.
Whatever the reasons given, most democratic citizens accept that there has to be some kind of separation. The only dispute that remains is the degree or type of separation. Should religion be completely banned from public and political discussions? Should religious reasons for legislation be completely and always unacceptable? Or can they be accommodated when other, secular reasons are also available (i.e. the Lemon test) and when the law in question doesn’t harm fundamental rights? Those and other questions remain essentially controversial. Below I offer an admittedly crude typology of forms of separation that democracies can and do apply. But before that I want to make another point that is important to keep in mind when discussing separation of church and state.
And that point is the remarkable similarity between legal and religious modes of thought. It is this similarity that has led to the original and historical entanglement between religion and politics and that has therefore initiated the attempts to dislodge politics from religion. Both religion and politics are about the realization of morality. They both encourage people to engage in some forms of action and to disengage from other forms of action, and the distinction between forms of action is a moral one in both law and religion. Both law and religion differentiate between right and wrong actions, even if they may not always use the same adjectives (the law doesn’t talk about sinful behavior for example). Both use ritual and judgment. Of course, some religions – notably the Abrahamic religions – tend more towards the legal mode of thought than others. Confucianism, by contrast, sees the law negatively, as a impediment to the internalization of norms of conduct, and therefore an obstruction to virtue.
Let’s now return to the modes of separation. In an effort that’s clearly bordering on the simplistic, I count 6 types of relationship between politics/law and religion, in descending order of separateness, from complete separation to complete lack of separation:
1. Secularism or strict separation
According to this view, there should be an impregnable wall between church and state (Jefferson’s “wall of separation”), and the government should be essentially secular. The archetype is of course French laïcité (often translated as “secularism”), the product of centuries of nefarious involvement by Catholics in French public life. It entails the rejection of religious involvement in government affairs (as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs, by the way). That includes rejection of religion in public education, for example. Secularism implies a restrictive understanding of “private life” where religion is supposed to belong. In “public” (which includes for example public schools) religious people should act as citizens (“citoyens”) and also appear as such (hence the controversy over Muslim dress in France, see here and here). Secularism produces a reasonable level of religious freedom in society and private life but often relatively harsh restrictions on religious activity in government, law, politics and public life.
Another problem is that it seems impossible to avoid that religious values and religious moral sensibilities influence the law. And even if it were possible, it would be undesirable, in my view. Religion can be a valuable source in public discourse (and I say this as an agnostic). And neither should one underestimate the power of religious argument to appeal across religious divides, or even across the divide between religion and non-belief.
Neutrality, compared to secularism, also separates church and state but imposes a less severe form of exclusion of religion from government, legislation and policy. It forbids governments from favoring or advancing a particular religion over other religions, but it also forbids favoring secularism over religion. Notwithstanding the words of Jefferson quoted above, neutrality rather than secularism is typical of the current interpretation of the U.S. constitution. Religion is allowed a far greater role in U.S. public life than in France. Elected politicians in the U.S. regularly invoke religion, and religious reasons are often used as justifications for legislation (as long as the Lemon test is respected, see above).
Yet, the U.S. government cannot provide tax money in support of religion, for example, or impose school prayer in public schools, not even if students can excuse themselves (of course, prayer while at school is not forbidden as such; on the contrary, it is protected by the free exercise clause).
Accommodation, compared to neutrality, is still a system in which church and state are separated, but to an even lesser degree. Accommodation permits a government to acknowledge that religion is an important force in society, and only prohibits laws that either coerce religious activity or fail to treat different religions equally. A state can favor a religion without coercing it. Examples of government interference with religion that accommodation would allow are: the use of public (i.e. government) school facilities by religious groups, government aid (financial or otherwise) to religious schools, or school prayer if students aren’t forced to attend or if different religions get equal prayer time.
Some say the U.S. is slowly moving from neutrality to accommodation (partly because of the influence of Justice Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court).
An even lesser form of separation occurs when one church is the established church (e.g. the Church of England) but other religions are still tolerated and have a measure of freedom. Establishment can mean either a “state church” or a “state religion”. A “state church” is created by the state as in the cases of the Anglican Church or the Church of Sweden. An example of “state religion” is Catholicism in Argentina. In the case of the former, the state has absolute control over the state church, but in the case of the latter, in this example, the Vatican has control over the church.
The problem here is that non-established churches, although they may be tolerated and even enjoy a large measure of freedom, aren’t treated equally, perhaps not by the law but simply because of their lack of equal recruitment power. So they are disadvantaged and hence there’s no equal religious freedom. Even if non-official religions are not actively persecuted or discriminated against, they are worse off when one religion is established because they have less means to influence the public as the official state religion. They are not as free as the official religion.
This takes establishment a step further. The state’s favorite religion is no longer a “primus inter pares”. Other, non-official, non-established or non-favorite religions suffer not just a competitive disadvantage because of their non-official character, but also relatively severe restrictions of their religious liberty (of their recruitment efforts, their freedom of worship etc.).
Law and religion are the same, and separation is effectively and completely undone. The law is an instrument in the realization of religious law and morality. Rather than merely competitive disadvantage or restrictions on worship and recruiting, religions suffer outright prohibition and persecution. Of course, the same can occur when a state has adopted atheism as its official ideology, and actively persecutes religion as such, rather than some religions in particular. However, this has become the exception since the demise of communism, and only occurs in countries such as China, Cuba and North Korea.
Some claim that certain modern Islamic republics or countries that have implemented Shari’a law are examples of theocracy (see here). But is a pure theocracy possible? Not even the most totalitarian interpretations of a religion will unearth rules for everything. Hence, some laws are bound to be rooted in something else than religion. We see that theocracy, like the other extreme (secularism), finds it difficult to remain pure.
Separation and liberty
Now, if you agree that a separation between state and church is necessary for the protection of religious liberty, as I argued at the beginning of this post, then it may be useful to compare these 6 different types of separation (going from complete separation to complete absence of separation) with regard to the respective consequences for religious liberty of each type.
I propose the following model, which I would like to call the “Spagnoli Curve” (just kidding; “inverted Nike Curve” will be more catchy I think, just turn the graph upside down and you’ll see what I mean).
You see that secularism performs slightly less well with regard to religious liberty than neutrality or accommodation, but better than establishment, and obviously also better than entanglement and theocracy (the latter receiving a zero score). Difficult to say whether neutrality offers more religious liberty than accommodation or vice versa.
[T]wo-in-three people in the world today live in countries with high levels of restrictions on religion. The report gauges the level of restrictions due both to government actions and to acts of violence and intimidation by private individuals, organizations and social groups. … 64 nations, about one-third of the countries in the world, have high or very high restrictions on religion. The brunt of these restrictions are often felt most directly by religious minorities. … Among all world geographic regions, the Middle East and North Africa have the highest government and social restrictions on religion, while the Americas are the least restrictive region on both measures. … In 75 countries, or four-in-ten countries in the world, national or local governments limit efforts by religious groups or individuals to persuade others to join their faith. In 178 countries (90%), religious groups must register with the government for various purposes, and in 117 (59%) countries the registration requirements resulted in major problems for, or outright discrimination against, certain faiths. (source)
More on religious liberty here.
I often discuss the human rights implications of incarceration: prison rape, overpopulation in prisons, juvenile incarceration, racism in incarceration rates, the social cost of incarceration, voting rights for felons and other related issues regularly make an appearance here.
Here are two other fine quotes admonishing the violence that occurs in prisons, even in so-called developed countries, and the high incarceration rates in the U.S.:
Prison will always be prison: Every society has to live with some level of institutional violence in the worlds it builds to confine its most dangerous elements, and there’s an inherent cruelty to incarceration that cannot be refined away. But there has to be a limit, as well. And what Americans have learned to tolerate (or rather, ignore) inside the walls of jails and prisons ought to churn our stomachs, shock our consciences, and produce not only outrage, but action. Ross Douthat (source)
Sentences in the United States are eight times longer than those handed out in Europe, Justice Kennedy said. California has 185,000 people in prison at a cost of $32,500 each per year, he said. He urged voters and elected officials to compare taxpayer spending on prisons with spending on elementary education. Justice Kennedy took special aim at the three-strikes law, which puts people behind bars for 25 years to life if they commit a third felony, even a nonviolent one. The law’s sponsor, he said, is the correctional officers’ union, “and that is sick.” (source)
Some prison statistics here (not only for the U.S.).
Guillermo “Billy” Ford, who later was to serve as Vice-President of Panama, is seen here in 1989, being attacked by thugs employed by Manuel Noriega, dictator of Panama at the time. The attack took place a few days after Ford and his presidential running-mate, Guillermo Endara, had defeated Noriega’s party in the elections.
See the whole series on iconic images of human rights violations.
And this is the map for 2007:
(source, these include accidental shootings, suicides, acts of self-defense, as well as crimes)
Here are some numbers for the rest of the world: