My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
There are many kinds of lying which the law already catches: lying to defraud people of money or property; lying about someone’s character; lying on oath. In Germany and a number of other states Holocaust denial is a statutory lie and a crime. But, such offences aside, human rights law has found itself unable to draw a line between freedom to speak your mind and freedom to fabricate, falsify or mislead. The reason is not hard to see: a court called on to adjudicate on, for instance, some of the tall stories propagated in the course of the EU referendum campaign would have had to assume the role of a ministry of truth.BACK TO TOP