'Blasphemy Day' Draws Fire from Event Sponsor's Founder

An institution devoted to promoting science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values organized the first observance of Blasphemy Day on Wednesday, supposedly as part of a larger campaign for free expression.

The observance, which coincided with the fifth anniversary of a Danish newspaper's publication of controversial cartoons about Mohammad, encouraged people around the world to "demonstrate their right to uninhibited expression of their views of religion," especially expressions that would be or would have been considered blasphemous.

"[O]ur voices will be heard-on whatever subject we choose. No topic off limits! No more taboos," exclaimed the N.Y.-based Center for Free Inquiry (CFI).

As part of its effort, CFI has launched petition drive urging relevant U.N. bodies not to limit speech critical of religion, a contest "that will challenge your blaspheming skills," and other initiatives allegedly designed to "defend the right to free expression."

Notably, however, not all members of the institution were on board for Wednesday's observance and the other activities it was promoting as part of its campaign.

CFI founder Paul Kurtz, for one, said he believes the effort is "most unwise" and "betrays the civic virtues of democracy."

"I support the premise that religion should be open to the critical examination of its claims, like all other institutions in society," he wrote in a dissenting opinion piece.

However, Kurtz added, "I do have serious reservations about the forms that these criticisms take."

"When we defended the right of a Danish newspaper to publish cartoons deploring the violence of Muslim suicide bombers, we were supporting freedom of the press. But for CFI itself to sponsor the lampooning of Christianity by encouraging anti-Catholic, anti-Protestant, or any other anti-religious cartoons goes beyond the bounds of civilized discourse in pluralistic society. It is not dissimilar to the anti-Semitic cartoons of the Nazi era," he said.

Kurtz called the latest efforts simply "vulgar antics" by some "fundamentalist atheists" that dishonor the basic ethical principles of what Kurtz claims the CFI has stood for until now – the toleration of opposing viewpoints.

"It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance," he stated. "One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech.

"I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity," he concluded.

Currently, Kurtz is chair emeritus of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational, editor-in-chief of Free Inquiry magazine, and professor emeritus of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Ronald Lindsey, meanwhile, heads the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, N.Y., which claims to have 100,000 followers worldwide.

Earlier this year, Kurtz had revealed that he had been "unceremoniously ousted" as chairman of the Center for Inquiry-Transnational on June 1, 2009, and only holds the title "chairman emeritus."

"I have agreed to remain on the Board for now - though I feel completely demoralized by the power grab - after a degrading Inquisition conducted by the Board a year ago and my final Expulsion from an organization, which I love dearly, and whose future survival I fear is now endangered," he wrote to friends and colleagues.

Kurtz revealed at the time that he was concerned that the direction of CFI would be changed.