U.N. Body Votes to Make Incitement to Religious Hatred ‘punishable’
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U.N. Body Votes to Make Incitement to Religious Hatred ‘punishable’

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The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, holding its 23rd session here, adopted today a clause in a proposed U.N. Convention guaranteeing freedom of religion, making “a punishable offense” all acts of violence and incitement to religious hatred “likely to lead to violence.”

The draft Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Religious Intolerance has been pending before one U.N. body or another for a number of years. Most moves toward adoption of such a convention have been opposed or delayed by the Soviet and Arab bloc.

Today, however, in adopting one clause–labeled Article 8 of the draft–Israel, one of the prime proponents of the Convention, found itself forced to join the Soviet Union, the Ukraine and France in abstaining in the voting on the article. The United States and Britain voted for the clause, which was adopted in the 32-member Commission by a ballot of 26 in favor, two against, and 4 abstentions. The two negative votes were cast by Iraq and Egypt.

All of the abstainers said they refrained from either a “yes” vote or a “no” vote because the article, as pressed mainly by the United States, was too weak in one respect or another.


Israeli Supreme Court Justice Haim Cohn, Israel’s representative on the Commission, explained why his Government had taken an abstaining position despite the fact that the U.S.A., supported by Britain, had supported the clause in question. The U.S.A. and Britain, he said, relied for their positions on the principle of freedom of speech “which, of course, is one of the generally-recognized human, rights and which might be unduly restricted if religious hatred could not be propagated.”

“As even religious belief,” declared Justice Cohn, “implies a conviction of the exclusivity of its objective truth, the propagation of such belief involves some deprecation of other religions or atheism which might easily, but unjustifiably, be classified by some judge or other as hatred–but the free propagation of all religious beliefs, including irreligious beliefs, ought in no way to be limited.”

Israel, said Justice Cohn, had appealed to the U.S.A. and Britain to accept a proposal made to the Commission by its Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, according to which all promotions of hatred for religious reasons should be made criminal offenses. He conceded that every religion, as such, took the position that it has a “monopoly of truth.” “But,” he insisted, “by maintaining that another person or group of persons holds an erroneous belief and change it, one is not fostering hatred.”

“On the other hand,” he continued, “where the propagation of one’s own religion is carried out in a hostile way, so as to expose adherents of other religions to contempt or ridicule, such propagation exceeds the limits of the permissible and justifiable. The analogy of the law of libel shows that, by exposing a man to ridicule or hatred, you will make yourself criminally and civilly responsible–notwithstanding any fundamental rights known as freedom of speech.

“As far as religious propaganda is concerned, one must and can distinguish between properly religious matters and tenets–such as theology and theodicy, revelations and miracles and after-life–matters which have no bearing in religion but which are really a defamation of its adherents.”


Hinting at the anti religious practices condoned by the Soviet Government, affecting Russian Jewry in particular, Justice Cohn told the Commission: “To say adherents of a given religion, for instance in a capitalistic country, that they are Communists–and, in a Communist country, that they are all imperialists and black marketeers–can have no

The Israeli jurist concluded his address on this issue–which made a sharp impact on the members of the Commission–by stating:

“If it were only for the purpose of requiring violence and the incitement to violence to be made criminal offenses, we would need this Convention. There is no civilized state in the world nowadays that has not criminal laws punishing acts of violence or incitements thereto, irrespective of the underlying motives. It is in order to outlaw the fostering of hatred and hostility unconnected with any violence, that we need this Convention.

“The various great religions have singularly failed in translating their preachings and teachings of love into practical action, and we can certainly not impose now upon states a duty to foster love between members of different religions. The least we can do, however, is to impose the duty on them to prevent the fostering of hatred.”

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