Posts Tagged “blasphemy laws”
One 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.
, blasphemy law
, blasphemy laws
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, downingtown PA
, george kalman
, i choose hell
, i choose hell productions
As I noted this past summer, the Republic of Ireland dragged itself kicking and screaming back into the Dark Ages, by outlawing blasphemy (this law took effect yesterday, January 1, 2010). A group of atheists in Ireland has decided to challenge this law by publishing a number of areligious and anti-religious quotations by a wide range of famous folks, as the (UK) Guardian reports:
Secular campaigners in the Irish Republic defied a strict new blasphemy law which came into force today by publishing a series of anti-religious quotations online and promising to fight the legislation in court.
The new law, which was passed in July, means that blasphemy in Ireland is now a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000 (£22,000). …
… Atheist Ireland, a group that claims to represent the rights of atheists, responded to the new law by publishing 25 anti-religious quotations on its website, from figures including Richard Dawkins, Björk, Frank Zappa and the former Observer editor and Irish ex-minister Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Michael Nugent, the group’s chair, said that it would challenge the law through the courts if it were charged with blasphemy.
Of course, in order to raise a legal challenge to this law, the group would first have to be prosecuted for having broken it. It’s not yet clear if the Irish government intends to do that. We’ll have to see what results this has, if any.
Here is a link to the group’s own published quotations.
Hat tip: iReligion Forum on Delphi Forums.
, atheist ireland
, blasphemy law
, blasphemy laws
, republic of ireland
This is one of those stories I have not seen mentioned in any major, independent mass-media outlets, and it’s not for lack of searching (using tools such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and AOL News, and other online journalism searches). The one exception to this has been an op-ed piece by Jonathan Turley, which appeared in USA Today. Otherwise, this news has only appeared in Right-wing oulets such as the Weekly Standard. I’m not sure why this has gone unreported, but it has.
At any rate, Turley writes in the USA Today On Religion blog:
Perhaps in an effort to rehabilitate the United States’ image in the Muslim world, the Obama administration has joined a U.N. effort to restrict religious speech. …
Around the world, free speech is being sacrificed on the altar of religion. Whether defined as hate speech, discrimination or simple blasphemy, governments are declaring unlimited free speech as the enemy of freedom of religion. This growing movement has reached the United Nations, where religiously conservative countries received a boost in their campaign to pass an international blasphemy law. It came from the most unlikely of places: the United States.
While attracting surprisingly little attention, the Obama administration supported the effort of largely Muslim nations in the U.N. Human Rights Council to recognize exceptions to free speech for any “negative racial and religious stereotyping.” The exception was made as part of a resolution supporting free speech that passed this month, but it is the exception, not the rule that worries civil libertarians.
In the process, the Obama administration has found an unlikely ally … the repressive Egyptian regime:
In the resolution, the administration aligned itself with Egypt, which has long been criticized for prosecuting artists, activists and journalists for insulting Islam. For example, Egypt recently banned a journal that published respected poet Helmi Salem merely because one of his poems compared God to a villager who feeds ducks and milks cows. The Egyptian ambassador to the U.N., Hisham Badr, wasted no time in heralding the new consensus with the U.S. that “freedom of expression has been sometimes misused” and showing that the “true nature of this right” must yield government limitations.
Turley goes on to cite a litany of recent cases of “blasphemous” speech that has been repressed in many otherwise-enlightened places, including Canada, the Netherlands, and the UK. I offered the following comment appended to this USA Today blog entry:
“The only purpose that laws against blasphemy serve, is to propagate immaturity on the part of believers. These laws give them the illusion that their beliefs are impervious to criticism … which is simply not rational. Rather than infantilizing believers by shielding religions from critique, we should instead send the message that believers ought to grow up, accept that there are people in the world who do not believe as they do, and steel them for that reality.
“If the Islamic world … or any other … is not mature enough to withstand criticism, the solution is not to abolish the criticism, but instead, for it to grow up. This will, no doubt, be a challenge, but it is one that is for the best. Continuing to infantilize Muslims, or any other kind of believer, serves no useful purpose. Encouraging them to grow up, will.
“Personal note: As a non-believer, I consider ALL religions and viewpoints about religion to be ‘fair game’ for critique. This includes even secular notions such as atheism and agnosticism, not to mention other recent metaphysical ideas such as New Age, neopaganism, and so on. All alike should be open to critique. We can ill afford to give the upper hand to those who aren’t mature enough to endure critique.”
I find it unconscionable that the Obama administration would actively work to continue infantilizing the Muslim world — along with all other religionists — by condoning this kind of policy. I had thought he would be a more enlightened president than this … but I guess I was wrong.
Finally, I honestly have to wonder why so many mass media outlets ignored this story. That also is unconscionable.
Tags: barack obama
, blasphemy laws
, hisham badr
, human rights council
, mass media
, obama administration
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