NZ Catholic statement spells out limits to free speech

In the wake of protests sparked by the decision of local media outlets to publish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, New Zealand's Catholic Church has said that democratic freedoms "must observe boundaries of decency, good taste and fairness".

TVNZ reports that the hand drawn caricatures were first published in a Danish newspaper, sparking outrage in the Muslim world. They were re-printed by the Australian Fairfax-owned papers the Dominion Post and the Christchurch Press, and shown on TVNZ and TV 3, prompting more than 700 members of the muslim community to march up Queen Street, Auckland, in protest.

The statement released yesterday by Catholic Communications said that there are limits to free speech when it promotes hatred or derision based on race, religion or gender.

"Freedom of speech in the media is not a licence to incite intolerance. We stand firmly alongside our Muslim sisters and brothers in deploring the decision to publish the cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, while at the same time we reject the violent reaction to them that is deeply at odds with the principles of peace, love and respect that underpin our Christian and Muslim faiths.

"It is necessary to draw a distinction between critical analysis in the media, whether that takes the form of serious comment or the use of humour, and gratuitous insult."

The statement said that respect for, and protection of, religious faith has been part of the country's democratic tradition.

"The unwritten, but verbally-delivered fourth article of the Treaty of Waitangi is worthy of reflection. In response to questions from two churchmen present at the Treaty signing, the Catholic Bishop Pompallier and the English missionary William Colenso, Governor Hobson agreed to the following statement which was read to the meeting before any of the chiefs had signed the Treaty. "The Governor says that the several faiths (beliefs) of England, of the Wesleyians, of Rome and also Maori customs shall alike be protected by him."

The statement said it is a "shameful day" for the editors of those New Zealand daily newspapers and of television news programmes who published the cartoons "with a specious claim to be defending their right to publish anything at all".

A Catholic Church perspective on freedom of speech (Catholic Communications NZ 6/2/06)
NZ Muslims hurt by cartoon re-print (TVNZ One News 5/2/05)

Vatican condemns cartoons of Prophet Mohammad (CathNews 6/2/06)

Representations offensive to religious sentiments (Vatican Information Service 4/2/06)
Cartoons 'could spark local outrage' (Daily Telegraph 6/2/06)
Vatican says freedom of expression does not mean offending religions (Catholic News Service 6/2/06)
Vatican decries both cartoons and Islamic response (Catholic World News 6/2/06)
Vatican Condemns Cartoons of Mohammed (Zenit 5/2/06)
Statement on Offending Religious Sentiments (Zenit 5/2/06)

7 Feb 2006