Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Godless Wednesday: Blasphemy Day is Sun Sep 30

September 30th is International Blasphemy Day, a project of the Campaign for Free Expression which is trying to bring attention to the "victimless crime" of committing blasphemy and the movement in multiple countries to expand blasphemy laws.

The Secular Coalition for America has an informative factsheet on blasphemy. For example, it lists the following countries as those whose have laws against blasphemy:

Notable Countries that Criminalize Blasphemy 
  • Afghanistan
  • Algeria
  • Australia
  • Bangladesh
  • Brazil
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Malaysia
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
Note that some of these countries on this list are known to be quite progressive in other ways. For example, I have shown the Netherland and Denmark in fuchsia because they have enacted marriage equality. But, they also believe in punishment for defaming a religion?

Happily, blasphemy laws do not exist in the United States, because they are a clear violation of First Amendment protections, as the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1952's Burstyn v. Wilson (343 U.S. 495).

However, blasphemy laws are getting support from some unlikely quarters. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said recently that there should be limitation on free speech which is used to "to provoke or humiliate." This appears to be clearly a complete misunderstanding of what free speech is about. The government should not be in the business of regulating what people can say to each other which can cause feelings of anger or shame. Besides, there is a difference between speech that targets a particular person and speech that targets a religion or religious idea. The latter is what blasphemy laws are attempting to regulate.

Amanda Knieff puts it well when she says:

The right to blaspheme is where the rights of free speech and religious freedom intersect. In order to have a truly democratic and open society, all citizens must be able to speak openly and honestly about all things—even another’s religion, lack of religion, beliefs, gods, and sacred books—and be able to take the name of supernatural entities in vain: Holy Zeus!

Amen to that!

Hat/tip to Friendly Atheist blog.

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