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Respect for persons; no respect for ideas; Limerick school was right to let Charlie Hebdo in the classroom

While I would like to vote in a referendum to remove the sentence from Ireland’s Constitution that makes blasphemy a crime, I am writing now to help distinguish between (1) respect for humans and their rights, and (2) culture and ideas (including religious culture and ideas) having no rights to respect. Instead, ideas should be open to criticism, and people have rights to make criticism and to live in a society where other people make criticisms too.

Especially when you are a child, but also throughout all of life, a really good society is one where various people are making criticisms of various ideas and elements of culture and society, with no long intervals between such criticisms both in the public news and in your private life. In so far as I have a right to have a good society in which to live, I have a right to such criticisms going on all the time.


The Limerick Leader reported on 05 February 2015

that a teacher at Limerick Educate Together School recently asked pupils to bring in matter relevant to the French Revolution of 1789 and freedom of speech; and a pupil took in a copy of the Charlie Hebdo of 14 01 2015, which the teacher showed to the pupils, and this offended a pupil who is Muslim;
and –
that a parent of this second pupil, as well as complaining to the school, gave the following view to the Limerick Leader – that the cover picture has caused great insult within the Islam community in Ireland and the world; and that the child was “subjected” to seeing the magazine; and that parents teach children to have respect for all peoples and for their cultures and for their religions, of which educators should be mindful. This read as if the magazine being shown in the class took away from such respect.

I agree fully with respect for all people, but disagree entirely with the idea of an obligation to have respect for any culture.

1. I favour respect for all persons and their legal, constitutional, and human rights, and the special rights of children: and special rights means, because they are growing up, that children need both protection from dangers AND open availability of information so that they can grow into good citizens, which includes understanding the cultures of the society in which they live.

2. I see that to not be shielded from open discussion of ideas that a child may hold, or may be considering holding, is one of those special rights of a child as she or he grows up. Shielding an idea from discussion is infringing the right of the child.

3. I do not favour a duty to have respect for cultures. Several European cultures and some from more distant parts of the world can be seen in Ireland, for example, in music, clothes, and food. Limerick as many other towns has restaurants, take-aways, and food shops that provide food that is usual in those countries. Any person is entitled to dislike or hate any or all of these foods, and public criticism or disrespect for them is legal; and we could guess that the people in Limerick who are from the countries of those foods mostly do not care if anyone hates or disrespects that type of food. The same applies to clothes and music of those cultures.

4. The Limerick Leader wrote that the parent of the child at the school spoke in the same style in the same sentence about respect for cultures and respect for religions. I do not support the present Constitution and Law that make public disrespect for religion a crime. It is quite an anomaly that it is entirely legal to criticise the food, clothes, and music elements of any culture, and most people would not dream of a law or even of a social convention not to criticise them, but the law and indeed the Constitution of Ireland make criticism of the religious element of a culture a crime.

5. It is a delicate matter how precisely teachers deal in class with subjects about which some or all pupils are sensitive, but schools certainly should not teach children to have a general respect for any culture or any aspect of culture. Schools and parents, and all adults, should teach children to have respect for other children and adults. This respect for persons is most needed in not infringing other people’s rights (to life, liberty, their belongings, and their good name, primarily) and is needed secondly in avoiding hurt when there is no positive value in the first person’s acts. So adults should teach children to use diplomacy in deciding when to criticise an element of a culture in the sight or hearing of particular persons, and to use reasoned argument in such criticism and not use invective or attacks on the person – but not to set a rule to always avoid criticising any particular part of culture (including religion).


2 Responses

  1. To Shane
    If there were a god, he/she/it might be more intelligent than humans, or equal, or less.
    The many people in the world have a variety of models of a god or of several gods. These models vary in the intelligence of the god(s), either viewed alone or in comparison with the intelligence of humans. The models vary on other qualities also.
    The models of god(s) vary on having more power than humans, or equal, rarely less.
    The models of god(s) vary on being benevolent towards humans, indifferent to them, or with bad intentions towards us.
    The only part of your question about which I think is this. It is only worth considering whether a god or gods exist if the god is smarter than us and is also considerably more powerful. Arguing against the existence of lesser things that some people call “god” is a waste of mental energy.
    A god considerably more intelligent than the smartest human would not be of interest if he/she/it had no power substantially more than humans. A god with both these superiorities is already proved not to exist, as the structure of animals’ bodies have many obvious faults that human designers typically avoid.

  2. I appreciate your article. As a Christian man, let me ask one diplomatic question; If there is a God, would you consider that He is far more intelligent than any human?

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