Posts Tagged “blasphemy laws”

bygging þar sem Alþingi Íslendinga situr, síðan 1881 (Íslenska); Parliament Building in Reykjavík, Iceland (English)For years now I’ve pointed out that the “crime” of blasphemy is really no crime at all; it doesn’t actually harm anyone or anything else. Consider: If (for example) someone expresses disrespect for a deity, what does that accomplish? It can’t harm the deity, since — if they exist — deities are metaphysical entities unaffected by such things. The deity — again, if it existed prior to the blasphemy — will continue to exist and in the same state as before. It can’t harm the deity’s religion, because it will go on just as it had previously; it will still have followers, its teachings won’t vanish, its various artifacts (objects/locations of worship, sacred texts, etc.) will go on as before. It also can’t harm the deity’s worshippers; they can keep on worshipping him/her/it as they always did, and continue believing as they did, prior to the blasphemy having been uttered.

Thus, blasphemy damages nothing and no one. People might be offended by it, but that doesn’t really mean anything, since they aren’t harmed in any meaningful way.

Despite this, a lot of countries have outlawed blasphemy, as well as apostasy (refusal to adhere to the prevailing religion, which is related). As noted, because blasphemy never harms anyone or anything, these laws accomplish nothing, except to protect believers in those countries from the terrible burden of being offended by someone outside their faith. This has the corollary effect of sensitizing people to any expression of blasphemy, and this in turn infantilizes them, fooling them into thinking the entire world believes as they do and they’re entitled never to have to know that not everyone does. This leads them to do insanely juvenile things like riot, maim and murder when they hear someone might burn a Qur’an (for example), or kill people over rumored blasphemies that never actually happened.

There really is no reason, therefore, for any jurisdiction on earth to have a blasphemy law.

I’m glad to hear, therefore, that — as the BBC reports — earlier this month, Iceland repealed its old blasphemy law (WebCite cached article):

Iceland’s parliament has abolished its blasphemy laws, despite opposition from some of the country’s churches.

A bill was put forward by the minority Pirate Party [cached], which campaigns for internet and data freedom.

It came after the deadly attack the same month against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

The bill said it was “essential in a free society that the public can express themselves without fear of punishment”.

It’s too bad it took a massacre to bring this to their attention … but at least they managed to get this done, driven by Iceland’s Pirate Party, which had been small but is growing in both numbers and political influence (cached). What’s also gratifying is that Iceland’s largest church supported repeal of the blasphemy law (cached):

The Iceland Monitor website said that the Church of Iceland supported the change [cached], and quoted them as saying that “any legislative powers limiting freedom of expression in this way is at variance with modern-day attitudes towards human rights”.

The Catholic Church of Iceland, along with a couple others, opposed it, claiming that allowing people’s religion to be insulted somehow reduces their religious freedom. I haven’t a fucking clue how that works — and I suspect they don’t either — but that’s what they said.

It’s time the entire world grew the fuck up and did what Icelanders did, which is to get rid of blasphemy laws. Because that’s what this is all about, ultimately … the maturity it takes to let people say what they want, even if it offends their religious senses. We can no longer afford the alternative. We just can’t.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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US DVD cover for Religulous, via MoviePosterDBIt’s no surprise that religionists aren’t fond of atheist Bill Maher. He’s been condemning their religionism for years. They get their knickers in knots almost every time the guy says something. They’re incensed that some insolent atheist dares say atheistic things … and they quite simply can’t tolerate it. The most recent example of their insane fury over the guy, comes from the keyboard of evangelical Christian Tristan Emmanuel who’s called for Maher to be “whipped” for having uttered blasphemy (locally-cached article):

Bill-asphemy: Does Maher Deserve A Whipping For Slandering God? [title]

I think it’s time to bring back blasphemy laws.

And here is why…

“… the thing that’s really disturbing about Noah isn’t that it is silly, it’s that it’s immoral. It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it, and his name is God… What kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean, besides Chris Christie.” — Bill Maher

And then he added this little ditty:

“Hey, God, you know, you’re kind of a dick when you’re in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with anger issues.” — Bill Maher.…

Here is an example of how America once dealt with the likes of Bill Maher.

“Be it declared and enacted by the Lieutenant Governor, Council and Representatives, convened in General Assembly, and it is enacted by the Authority of the same, that if any person shall presume willfully to blaspheme the holy Name of God, Father, Son, or Holy Ghost; either by denying, cursing or reproaching the true God; his Creation or Government of the World: or by denying, cursing, or reproaching the holy Word of God… everyone so offending shall be punished by imprisonment, not exceeding six months, and until they find sureties for good behaviours; by sitting in pillory; by whipping; boaring thorow the tongue, with a red hot iron; or sitting upon the gallows with a rope about their neck; at the discretion of the court…” — Massachusetts General Laws.

Of course, Emmanuel concedes Maher has a right to say what he wants … he just doesn’t think Christians should permit him to, anyway:

[Maher] may have protection under the First Amendment to say whatever slanderous thing that comes out of his toilet bowl brain, but that does not mean Christians should turn the other cheek.

(Actually, Mr Emmanuel, you Christians are required always to “turn the other cheek.” Jesus offered no exceptions or caveats in his instructions. You must do it, every single fucking time, without fail, and without excuse. But I digress.)

Emmanuel hurls the requisite anti-atheist Bible verse (Psalm 14:1) at Maher, as though this one verse justifies any believer doing anything s/he wants to Maher because he’s an insolent non-believer. Personally, I don’t find that Bible verse convincing, and I don’t expect Maher does, either. I mean, it was written a little over 2,000 years ago by a self-righteous semi-nomadic scribe somewhere in the Near East, who obviously was angry that there were actually people in his world who dared not believe in the deity he did, and he couldn’t control his outrage over it. I certainly am not impressed by that infuriated scribe’s opinions or complaints. When Christianists throw that verse at me, I know they’ve run out of rational material and are resorting to name-calling … and that tells me everything I need to know about them, and about their religion.

Emmanuel repeatedly uses the word “slander” in his screed, as though Maher’s blasphemy is the crime or tort of slander. But it’s not. I’m no lawyer, but as I understand it, in the US, to prevail in a slander case, one must demonstrate two things: First, that the statement in question is factually incorrect; and second, that the person making it knows it to be factually incorrect. I invite Emmanuel to demonstrate that YHWH is not the “psychotic mass-murderer” Maher said he was. He would first have to show that YHWH exists in the first place, then demonstrate he isn’t the “psychotic mass murderer” Maher said he was. I wish him the best of luck doing that. He won’t be able to … but I suppose he can try.

Another tactic Emmanuel uses is to claim that by “slandering” God, Maher is “slandering” his believers. This is just a way of (falsely) personalizing what Maher said, reframing it as something other than it was. Apparently by calling their God a “psychotic mass murderer,” Maher attacked his followers. Well, too bad. He didn’t. Moreoever, to identify oneself with one’s deity and to assume anything negative said about the deity is an “attack” one oneself, is presumption of the tallest order … and irrational.

Emmanuel piles onto his illogic with the claim that blaspheming his God is the same thing as threatening the president. But it isn’t. They’re two different things. Threatening the president is one thing, and it is (sometimes) illegal. But saying YHWH is “a psychotic mass murderer” is something else entirely.

There’s a saying among non-believers that blasphemy is a victimless crime. Effectively, it is. Even if there were a God who is mortally insulted whenever anyone blasphemes him/her/it, the cold fact is that s/he/it is literally unharmed by it. Assuming YHWH exists, how can Maher calling him “a psychotic mass murderer” damage him? He can’t. Maher is a mere mortal, whereas YHWH is supposedly an omnipotent being. Maher cannot harm YHWH in the slightest way, ever. Not by his words, and not by his actions. Maher’s blasphemy also does not harm YHWH’s followers, such as Emmanuel. They can just continue believing whatever they wish, however they wish; nothing Maher says can ever prevent them from doing so.

Blasphemy hurts no one and nothing, except maybe for the feelings of believers … but then, religiofascists like Emmanuel obviously have no reservations about hurting the feelings of Maher — which he did indirectly by tossing out a quotation of Ps 14:1 which refers to him as a “fool,” “corrupt,” and “abominable,” and directly by calling Maher “morally bankrupt.” So he pretty much forfeited the moral high ground here … if he had even been standing on it in the first place.

The bottom line is that an omnipotent being like YHWH can take care of himself. He doesn’t need sanctimoniously-angry followers like Emmanuel sticking up for him and whipping people who say negative things about him. If YHWH objects to Maher’s remark, or his atheism, he has the power to do something about it. If he chooses not to, then Emmanuel should just shut his self-righteous face already and stop doing for his God what his own God will not do for himself.

Hat tip: Raw Story.

Photo credit: Religulous DVD cover, via MoviePosterDB.

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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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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.

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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.

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