Do Americans have the right to criticize religion?

Ten members of the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo were slaughtered last week for the sin of blaspheming Islam. Blasphemy is a human right. It’s enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” And it’s also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Journalists, on both the left and right, understand the centrality and importance of the right to blaspheme religion; the debate, insofar as it exists, generally surrounds the question of whether or not it’s a good idea to actually exercise that right, in practice. But journalists are not typical Americans. And when you ask Americans whether they have the right to blaspheme, it turns out that only a minority of them think that they do.

Fusion surveyed 1,502 Americans and asked a single question: Do Americans have the right to blaspheme religion? We got 1,105 responses, and the results were not very impressive: only 37% said yes, while 32% said no, and 31% said “I don’t know.”

Among women, the results were even worse: just 26.5% said yes, while 36% said no, and 38% said “I don’t know.”

The only hint of good news is that the “yes” response was most popular among 25-34 year-olds, while the “no” response was most popular among the over-65s. Younger Americans, it seems, are more cognizant than their elders of their rights. But still, only 43% of 25-34 year-olds were willing to say that yes, Americans have the right to blaspheme religion. The only groups where an outright majority of respondents said yes were those people making more than $75,000 per year.

Why are Americans — and especially American women — so unsure about their right to blaspheme? Well, America is a very religious country, for starters; that surely has a lot to do with it. The right to blaspheme is one of those areas where secular liberalism departs sharply from traditional religion-based morality. A lot of it is surely just ignorance. (Just look at the huge numbers for “I don’t know.”) So be sure of this: you do have the right to blaspheme. Whether you use it or not is up to you. But no one can take it away from you.

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