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A public debate has emerged on freedom of expression when it comes to humor, and on whether religion or religious institutions cannot be the subject of jokes.

No joking matter

A public debate has emerged on freedom of expression when it comes to humor, and on whether religion or religious institutions cannot be the subject of jokes.

Two comedians recently had to apologize to the Dratshang Lhentshog and light a thousand butter lamps for cracking jokes about religious titles and positions during a private event.

The jokes were lewd and used irony, and therefore had many laughing not only among the audience present but those who watched the video clip of the act online.

As the subject matter included religious titles and positions, offense was taken not only by the Dratshang Lhentshog but also by some of the public.

Those who do not agree with the act say that there must be limitations and that the comedians had crossed a line with their jokes. While no names were personalities were referred to by the comedians, some have argued that their jokes could be construed as defamation and irreverence.

Buddhism is a way of life for the majority of Bhutanese, and its personalities are revered to a great extent in Bhutan. By cracking vulgar jokes about positions and titles in Buddhism perhaps may not have been in good taste.

But on the other side of the fence are those who say a double joke has taken place with the need for an explanation and apology.

Many have asked why a society that is supposed to be practicing tolerance, is displaying intolerance.

Some have referred to Lam Drukpa Kuenley’s methods.

Some have even argued that there would be no jokes or laughter if there was no subject matter or some truth to the issue.

Another argument is that comedians and society have a right to express themselves through humor, even if the subject is Buddhism, whether it be in their living rooms or in public.

The debate raises important questions that we, as a society, need to discuss and tackle, like whether there should be boundaries on joking about certain subjects.

Is a joke about religion always disrespectful? Is there another purpose for a joke?

There are already many other areas we joke freely about, like physical looks or the shade of skin, and which could cause offense to some. Is it time we also treat these areas sensitively and place boundaries?

Or should we choose to simply ignore jokes cracked in private or publicly about something we revere because the Constitution guarantees their right to say it? Of course, there is defamation and libel, and the law will handle such offenses.

These are tricky issues with no clear answers but the time for this issue to be vigorously discussed for own benefit has arrived.

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