Saturday, March 18, 2006

Of South Park and Scientology

Perhaps you've read about the imbroglio involving the creators of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, as well as Isaac Hayes, Tom Cruise and the Church of Scientology.

I don't want to delve into the Church of Scientology's system of beliefs, the storyline of the South Park episode in question, or rumors that Tom Cruise used his influence to have the rerun of the Scientology episode pulled. Other bloggers and news outlets have already commented on those points, and I don't have any real experience with Scientology to speak of, beyond knowing a little of L. Ron Hubbard's life history and reading through a few websites dedicated to the religion. Instead, let's quickly examine the larger issue of 1st Amendment protections and attempts to outlaw religious blasphemy.

The troubles across the world stemming from the publishing of cartoons in a Danish newspaper gave momentum to political parties, religious zealots and weak-kneed politicians who seek to impose criminal sanctions on speech deemed to be blasphemous towards a particular faith or generally irreligious in nature. The European Union already has several member states with such laws on the books (the United Kingdom and Italy, for example), and Turkey seeks a Union-wide blasphemy ban. Proponents of the ban argue that restricting blasphemous speech will raise respect for opposing faiths and reduce cultural and religious conflicts.

Far from offering beneficial effects, banning irreligious speech can only harm a society. No person, group or faith may be above reproach, lest they become empowered to freely disobey laws and act with complete impunity. No religion is perfect, and abuses of power and trust must be allowed to see the light of day, rather than hide behind speech restrictions. Without the protections offered by the 1st Amendment, who would speak about the Roman Catholic hierarchy covering up cases of child abuse, who would alert society about abuse in Jehovah's Witness congregations, who would decry using the Koran as justification for honor killings?

Regardless of whether or not the Church of Scientology is indeed guilty of any sort of abuse or criminal act, Matt Stone and Trey Parker had every right to speak about the church's beliefs and drag Scientology into public discussion.

Blasphemy laws the world over should and must be opposed at all costs.

In the interests of blogger transparency, I found the Scientology episode was one of the best from the entire series. I generally like South Park, though Matt and Trey have had their share of misses over the years.

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