Freedom of Expression Has a Limit, Says Vatican

Respect of Human Dignity Urged in Address at UNESCO

PARIS, MAY 8, 2006 ( Freedom of expression “is not unlimited,” a Vatican aide told UNESCO’s Executive Council.

Monsignor Francesco Follo, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, delivered that message during the 174th session of the Executive Council, held in Paris last month.

In his address on “Respect for Freedom of Expression and Respect for Sacred Beliefs and Values and Religious and Cultural Symbols,” delivered on April 11, the Holy See’s representative affirmed that the objective of freedom of expression is a person’s fulfillment “and the defense of his dignity. Hence there is a reasonable limit to the right of expression.”

Monsignor Follo said that if there “is a public and political place, where serious and profound words can be expressed” and heard, it is UNESCO, as witnessed at the time of the international crisis triggered by the drawings of Mohammed published in the Western press.

And if there is a public and political place where religious faith can be discussed, it is UNESCO, continued Monsignor Follo. “Religious faith structures the existence of billions of people” though it remains unknown “for those who do not share it,” he added.

The Vatican representative pointed out an essential and underlying topic “related to what we have been through during the [Mohammed] caricatures crisis,” namely, “the respect of human dignity.”


“The purpose of our work is to put into practice all our assets to ensure recognition, existence, promotion and respect of this dignity,” affirmed Monsignor Follo, adding that it is important to recognize the “sacred” character of this dignity.

Freedom, invoked so often during the crisis over the Mohammed drawings, must not be stressed to the point of ignoring human dignity, the monsignor contended.

“When freedom of expression is not limited by a norm, then freedom without justice” is none other than “the expression of personal interests,” he said. And “justice without freedom is only a formal justice,” leading to “totalitarian regimes” and “all kinds of dictatorships,” the Vatican aide added.

Therefore, “it is essential to work for that freedom and justice in order to guarantee them to all,” he added.

A man without freedom and cut off from justice is a mutilated man, reduced to the biological reality of his body, Monsignor Follo said. “Here again a whole dimension of his being, which must be called spiritual, is denied.”

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