Pope Francis has made a few good decisions as of late (animal souls, atheists in heaven, climate change), so I was actually surprised by his recent anti-free-speech speech, in which he said one cannot mock faith. Although, what surprised me the most is that I was surprised; he is a theist, after all, so it makes sense that he'd be against anyone mocking faith. Because religions need to be placed on a pedestal where they cannot be touched, unlike any other worldview or ideology. It doesn't exactly scream of confidence, does it?
You can satirize ideologies like communism. You can harshly criticize national "socialism", for obvious reasons. But if you point out the bigotry that can be found in many major religions or argue against the "truth" of said religions, then it is suddenly "too offensive" and wrong.
Although the pope said he was against the violence displayed in the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, he basically justified it by saying if someone insults his mother, he'd punch them. He also said one cannot mock faith, which is to say one isn't allowed to criticize faith or be blasphemous, which is one of the biggest problems the world has ever had. Do we really want to go back to a society in which blasphemy is a crime?
It is a liberal's duty to always stand up for people who are unjustly oppressed. This most definitely includes Muslims who live in the west and are targeted, threatened, vilified, and oppressed based only on the actions of a few who share their label. But this duty to protect also includes Middle Eastern apostates and atheists, Christians in the Middle East, women in the Middle East, and LGBT people in the Middle East. Just like these groups of people are still oppressed in the west in large part by the godly and Christianity, they are oppressed even more in the Middle East by Islam and its adherents.
It is NOT a liberal's duty to protect ideologies by hiding behind a banner of people feeling insulted; this is especially true if said ideology causes or justifies bigotry. The prophet Muhammad was a pedophile, who married a six-year-old girl and raped her when she was nine. My saying that he's a raping monster is offensive to Muslims. Is this right not to be offended truly worth protecting? Is blasphemy truly that bad a crime, or a crime at all?
I am not opposed to the idea of Muslims and Islam in the west more than I am of Christians and Christianity. We do, however, live in (mostly) secular societies; we are (mostly and comparatively) progressive, and so Islam and other religions cannot dictate how we live and they should not be protected from criticisms like they would in a theocratic society.
While I don't think it should be punishable by law, we should of course not strive to insult people just for the sake of insulting them. But satirizing religions isn't done only for the sake of being insulting; it is done to criticize them and produce laughter. And if people are offended by critique, or because we don't follow their religion's rules (I've seen some non-Muslim liberals say they wouldn't draw Muhammad because Islam says they shouldn't, but even so they break many other rules), then it is their problem. Personally, I do not wish to live in a theocratic society.
If free speech should be limited because it can be perceived as "insulting" or "racist" by some people, I suggest freedom of religion should exclude any religion that oppresses LGBT, women, atheists, apostates, people of different faiths, and so on—religions like Islam and Christianity.
Even Muslims and Christians who are NOT bigoted shouldn’t be allowed to be religious, because their religion can be viewed as offensive to some people and there are real bigots who share their faith. This is similar to how people who offer legitimate criticisms of their religions should be censored, according to some, because there are real bigots or someone might take offense from criticisms of a set of ideas or because it removes that politically correct coat of sugar that makes reality oh so fine.
If we apply the same standard of limitation because of insult to religious freedom as some want to do to free speech, then it becomes pretty clear that this is not the way to go. Just like people should be allowed to worship whoever or whatever they want, others should be allowed to criticize that faith; this can definitely be done through the use of satire, which is political in its very nature.
I am a liberal; I am for free speech; I am Charlie Hebdo. Je suis Charlie!
Here's a follow-up blog post, titled "Theists miss the point", based on some theists' comments on my Facebook page. As the title suggests, they missed the point, so I wanted to explain what they got wrong.