The declaration says that “no one’s concept of what is sacred may be imposed on others” and that “everyone is free to express criticism, even irreverent criticism, of any system of political, philosophical or religious thought.”
The goal is to draw attention to the close relationship between freedom of expression and religious freedom, to combat the temptation to restrict freedom of expression and, with the support of religious leaders, to promote a point of reference that can be used to put pressure on those who make ambiguous statements.
At a news conference today at the Palais Brogniart in Paris, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “After the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, the publication of the ‘All is Forgiven’ issue elicited all kinds of reactions internationally and in France that show the need for a clear message in support of freedom of information.”
There have been calls for changes for the sake of sensitivity of certain sectors of the population, but a pluralist and tolerant democratic society means that the public debate should not be “constrained or limited by the beliefs or sensibilities of this sector or that sector,” Deloire added.
Secularism Monitoring Centre president Jean-Louis Bianco, who is supporting this initiative, said: “This important declaration stresses that freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are closely linked and complementary. Secularism is what unites them because it constitutes a framework that allows the expression of any opinion or belief, within the limits of the freedom of others.”
Reporters Without Borders has sought the support of representatives of France’s leading religious organizations. Dalil Boubakeur, who heads the Paris Mosque and the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), has signed the declaration. François Clavairoly, the head of the Protestant Federation, has announced that he will sign it. Marie-Stella Boussemart, the president of the French Buddhist Union, has given it her personal support.
Haïm Korsia, France’s Grand Rabbi, has said that he fully supports the declaration in principle and that there can be no “yes, but” as regards freedom of expression. But he is calling for a collective response from all members of the French Conference of Religious Leaders, with includes the French Conference of Bishops and the French Assembly of Orthodox Bishops.
Deloire has asked to be allowed to address the next meeting of the French Conference of Religious Leaders, scheduled for 11 February.
A committee of well-known figures is supporting the Reporters Without Borders Declaration on Freedom of Expression. It includes Catherine Lazerges (president of the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights), Catherine Teitgen-Colly (its vice-president), Jean-Paul Delevoye (president of Economic, Social and Environmental Council), essayist Elisabeth Badinter, lawyer Robert Badinter, philosopher Abdennour Bidar, psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama, anthropologist Malek Chebel, philosopher Cynthia Fleury, historian and journalist Jacques Julliard, journalist Philippe Labro, lawyer Henri Leclerc, lawyer Richard Malka, political scientist Pierre-Emmanuel Moog, essayist Alain-Gérard Slama, writer Philippe Sollers, sociologist Alain Touraine and mathematician Cédric Villani.
Those responsible for places of worship can sign the declaration by post or by email. Reporters Without Borders will place announcements in the national and regional press containing the text of the declaration. It will also ask regional journalists to help promote the initiative.