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April 2, 2012

BBC says race trumps religion

The full-page New York Times advertisement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was certainly blunt -- starting with its headline telling "liberal" and "nominal" Catholics that "It's Time to Consider Quitting the Catholic Church."

Conservative Catholics were outraged and called the newspaper's leaders hypocrites, claiming they would never dare to run such a fierce and offensive ad that targeted believers in other faiths, especially Islam.

Sure enough, a group called Stop Islamization of America immediately produced a full-page advertisement that precisely mirrored the images and rhetoric of the anti-Catholic effort, including a headline telling "moderate" Muslims that "It's Time to Quit Islam."

Conservative Catholics were outraged -- again -- when Times leaders refused to run the anti-Muslim advertisement, claiming that to do so would endanger American troops.

Truth be told, the offended Catholics had little reason to be shocked if members of the Times hierarchy based their decisions on convictions similar to those recently aired by the leader of the British Broadcasting Corporation, another of the world's most influential news organizations.

For BBC director-general Mark Thompson, the key is to understand that Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews and believers in other minority religions share a "very close identity with ethnic minorities" and, thus, their beliefs deserve to be handled with special care.

Meanwhile, he said it's acceptable to subject Christians to more criticism and satire, to treat their beliefs with less sensitivity, because Christianity is a powerful, secure, majority religion -- even in an increasingly secular age.

"I think it is very different to talk about Christianity in the United Kingdom: a very broadly, literally established, but also metaphorically established, part of our kind of culturally built landscape," said Thompson, in an interview recorded for the FreeSpeechDebate.com project produced by St. Antony's College, Oxford.

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