La Porte de l’EnferOne would think that, in the United States of the 21st century, blasphemy laws would have been a thing of the past … relics of, say, the Puritanical origins of the New England colonies. But if you thought that, you would have been wrong. Apparently the commonwealth of Pennsylvania had such a law. The reason I know about it, is because a federal judge just declared it unconstitutional, as reported by the AP via the Philadelphia Inquirer (WebCite cached article):

A Pennsylvania law banning blasphemous or profane words from the names of corporations is unconstitutional because state employees who apply it must base their decisions on their own religious beliefs, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson in Philadelphia issued a summary judgment Wednesday in favor of an independent filmmaker who sued over state officials’ rejection of his application to name his company “I Choose Hell Productions, LLC.”

Now, I have no idea why this guy wanted to call his company “I Choose Hell.” But whether or not I think it’s a good idea, is irrelevant. This is a free country, last I knew. Anyone who dislikes the name of the business or is offended by it, can simply avoid patronizing it. See how that works? Isn’t freedom wonderful? Fortunately, Judge Baylson saw right through the law’s solely-religious purpose:

Baylson said the 1977 law barring the use of “words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name” violates the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and protections against laws that promote any religion.

The law’s “plain language, historical context, and the specific sequence of events leading to its passage inevitably lead to the conclusion that … the statute was introduced and passed into law with a predominantly religious purpose,” the judge said in a 68-page ruling that traced Judeo-Christian anti-blasphemy laws back to biblical times.

When I first noticed this story I assumed this blasphemy law had originated back in colonial times … but that turned out not to be the case. As the Philadelphia Inquirer also reported in another article on the subject (cached), this law had actually been written in 1977:

Thomas H. Lee II, Kalman’s attorney, encountered a surprise when he researched the case. “I assumed that this was a statute that was left over from either the 19th or early 20th century. I was surprised to find that it dated only to 1977,” Lee said.

That was when a gun-shop owner in Western Pennsylvania incorporated the name “The God Damn Gun Shop” (that was what his wife called it) and put up a sign, angering local ministers. House Bill 371 soon followed, declaring that corporate names “shall not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing, or profane the Lord’s name.”

In this way, the 1977 Pennsylvania legislature bent over for these outraged ministers and did their bidding, by forbidding any “blasphemous” business names. This sort of thing, of course, is just childish … no more or less childish than (say) the government of Pakistan banning Facebook and Youtube within its borders over their supposed “blasphemous” content. Grown adults can tolerate the “blasphemy” of others, without stamping, fuming, screeching, wailing, and demanding the passage of laws against it. So the question is … why won’t they?

Photo credit: Digitized Chaos.

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