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Freedom of Speech and Defamation of Religion

This statement was approved and voted by the Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists on June 23, 2010, and released at the General Conference Session in Atlanta, Georgia, June 24-July 3, 2010.

A distinguishing feature of humans is our God-given ability to communicate in the abstract through speech, symbols, and the written word. Nowhere is this capacity more uniquely expressed than in the domain of faith. Communication concerning religious beliefs is central to our ability to explore meaning and purpose in life, discuss the values that guide our actions, and to share experiences as we search for a closer knowledge of God.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church strongly supports freedom of speech in general, and freedom of religious speech in particular. Although freedom of speech is guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, efforts continue to limit speech at both the national level and at the United Nations. In both settings, significant focus has been placed on limiting speech that offends the religious beliefs of the hearer. Seventh-day Adventists affirm sensitivity and respect in all communication. We are thus concerned about speech designed to offend religious sensibilities. However, we believe that ceding the right to the state to control religious speech creates a far greater threat to the autonomy of people of faith than that posed by offensive speech. Indeed, there are numerous examples today of states citing a desire to protect religious feelings to justify the forceful silencing of peaceful religious speech.

Our opposition to the restriction of speech is not without exceptions. The Church recognizes that in limited circumstances, speech can result in significant, tangible harm to the right to physical safety, the enjoyment of one's property and other similarly compelling rights. In such very limited instances, we recognize the responsibility of the state to act to protect its population. When such limits are necessary, the Church expects governments to target restrictions narrowly to address only the dangerous speech in question.

The Church recognizes a special responsibility of those in power to communicate a message that supports fundamental human rights, including all the facets of religious freedom. This responsibility is particularly pertinent to governments, as they are generally in a unique position to encourage robust respect for the rights of their people, and particularly minorities.

While recognizing the right to freely express religious beliefs, Seventh-day Adventists accept the responsibility to self-regulate their speech to ensure it is consistent with biblical teachings. This includes the obligation to be both honest and loving. This is particularly important when discussing another faith as religious passions can prompt a one-dimensional view of others. Honesty does not mean merely stating facts accurately, but also placing information in an accurate context. Seventh-day Adventists will be constrained by Christ's law of love in all they say and do. When the God-given gift of speech is used to communicate in love, we will bless not only our fellow human beings; we will honor the God who made us all with the gift to express ourselves.