I’m struggling to reconcile the various responses the Universal House of Justice has to the issue of freedom of expression
Here’s part of what it said in 1988 to the US Baha’is:
At the same time, Shoghi Effendi’s advice, as conveyed by his secretary, goes on to stress the point that “all criticisms and discussions of a negative character which may result in undermining the authority of the Assembly as a body should be strictly avoided. For otherwise the order of the Cause itself will be endangered, and confusion and discord will reign in the community.”
Clearly, then, there is more to be considered than the critic’s right to self-expression; the unifying spirit of the Cause of God must also be preserved, the authority of its laws and ordinances safeguarded, authority being an indispensable aspect of freedom. Motive, manner, mode, become relevant; but there is also the matter of love: love for one’s fellows, love for one’s community, love for one’s institutions.
The responsibility resting on the individual to conduct himself in such a way as to ensure the stability of society takes on elemental importance in this context. For vital as it is to the progress of society, criticism is a two-edged sword: it is all too often the harbinger of conflict and contention. The balanced processes of the Administrative Order are meant to prevent this essential activity from degenerating to any form of dissent that breeds opposition and its dreadful schismatic consequences.
Individual Rights and Freedoms
And here’s part of what it recently said in a letter to the Baha’is in Iran:
Undeterred by the voices which insist that you believe but in silence, as if belief and the expression of it can be separated, you are engaged, wisely and unobtrusively, in exchanging views with your friends on themes central to the progress of Iran and its glorification.
At a time when Iranian society is being torn apart by long-standing prejudices of religion, ethnicity, gender, and class, the experience of your community for more than a century and a half can serve as an abundant source of insight to the people of that land.
To the believers in the Cradle of the Faith, 28 July 2008 – Word document
To the believers in the Cradle of the Faith, 28 July 2008 – HTML document
The House spends many paragraphs in its 1988 letter showing how “belief and the expression of it” can and should be separated, particularly when the authority of the Baha’i administration might be undermined. Yet, in its more recent letter, it says the Iranian Baha’is should be undeterred by such talk, particularly when they see their society being torn apart.