Farr focused on a 14-year-old girl with Down syndrome, Rimsha Masih, a Christian in Pakistan. Rimsha was reportedly searching through trash for items her poor family could use and happened upon pages of the Koran, which either were already burnt or would be because of where she put them, not understanding the implications. “Then this child, utterly incapable of discerning what she had done, if anything, was arrested, charged with blasphemy, and put in prison,” Farr explained. “In Pakistan and elsewhere in the Middle East, blasphemy is a crime which can bring many years in prison, torture, and even execution.” Rimsha has been released on bail and taken to an undisclosed location, owing to concerns that mobs of the sort we have seen outside U.S. embassies might attack her and her family, given the blasphemer she is believed to be. Her fate is unclear.
This is a “humanitarian outrage,” Farr said, and it is also part of a dangerous trend. “No one should insult the sacred beliefs of another. It is an assault on human dignity and respect for others. But the malevolent idea that the proper response to defamation of religion is criminal prosecution, let alone violence or murder, is a dangerous problem in the Muslim-majority world,” he continued. “My religion is insulted regularly by the New York Times and the Washington Post,” said Farr, a Catholic. “I frequently am outraged. But I try to respond with my voice or my pen. That is the only way people with deep differences can live together in a civilized society.”
Farr believes that it is imperative for the United States to “become more effective at supporting in these countries those Muslims who know that Islam can be defended without violence, and that embracing religious freedom is in their vital interests.” Which brings us back home.
In a speech at Georgetown, the cardinal archbishop of Washington, D.C., Donald Wuerl, pointed to a “gathering storm” that “has not been created by religious influence on policy, which has been a part of the American experience since the very beginning,” but by an “increasingly bold ideologically driven and progressively intolerant secular humanism” that insists it is the only legitimate voice in the public square. Religious faith has always been a “conscience” in our nation, Wuerl said. In marginalizing that voice, we lose our grip on traditional norms “that protect the dignity and the rights of every person.”
If we don’t understand this, it will become increasingly difficult for Americans to articulate these values, as we saw in that initial U.S. embassy statement and in Secretary Clinton’s near-apology for the freedom of speech. Each man and woman has a human dignity granted by God, not Caesar. Once we have relegated that to the status of just another opinion, we have lost the civic religion on which we were founded. Once we have surrendered our moral voice, Rimsha’s best advocate will be lost to history.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.