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Oct 07 2012

Ellery Schempp on Blasphemy

My friend Ellery Schempp, the plaintiff in Abington Township v Schempp, gave a talk on International Blasphemy Rights Day, which was last Sunday, about the importance of blasphemy. Below the fold, a transcript of that talk:

We meet today to affirm and celebrate the freedom to criticize and disagree with religious doctrines and religious philosophies. I celebrate all of us who are blasphemers, heretics, and in apostasy.

Freedom of personal religious beliefs cannot be secure unless there is also separation of church and state, separation of elected government from unelected claimants to god’s personal email address.

We have seen what blasphemy laws have done to us. Women called witches in Salem were killed because of finger-pointing — witches were said to be not only blasphemous, but satanic–whatever that means. Mary Dyer, a Quaker woman, was publically hanged to death right over here on Boston Common on June 1, 1660. In fact, three members of the Society of Friends were condemned to death and executed by public hanging for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Others lay under sentence of death at Boston in the same period, but had their punishments commuted to that of being whipped out of the colony from town to town.

Unitarians were condemned for denying the Trinity. That is blasphemy, heresy, apostasy all combined.

When I see what some bishops and preachers have done, I confess that I have some sympathies for Satan. Now, I am not in favor of evil, or anti-social acts, but I do sympathize with sinning.

And for blasphemy, I want you to know that Santa–y’know, Santa Claus—well, Santa is just a rearrangement of the letters in Satan! Christians have been fooled for long.

Heresy and apostasy are religious concepts and have no place in civil government. We always must ask, “Is this the business of government?”

Where would we be as secularists, Humanists, freethinkers, non-believers, atheists if blasphemy and heresy laws were enforced? How can we allow the power of civil government to be used by religious authorities, full of their own self-importance, to criminalize beliefs? Who is to define blasphemy or heresy? Should this power be given to unelected religion-dependent ‘authorities’ with a self-protecting agenda?

Democracy requires that religious doctrines be separated from good social policies.

We must be free to reject all notions of invisible angels and demons, invisible spirits and gods, invisible cherubims, seraphims, and Beelzebubs.

And notions about “natural law”, which is a purely religious invention with no basis in science.

Throughout history, churches have tried to capture the power of civil government to foster their own agendas, and feather their own nests. But no church or religious group should have power over secular government.

Separation of government from religious doctrines is the central unifying principle for all believers and non-believers. I applaud Humanists, Atheists, Secularists, and Liberal Religious people for holding to strict separation of church and state.

The core concept of “secular” means governmental neutrality without favoritism toward believers. Freedom from religious intrusions is essential to a vital democracy and for all secularists.

Blasphemy, heresy, apostasy are purely religious doctrines with no place in a free society.

So, I say unto you, Go thou and blaspheme and sin. Sinning is good for the soul. Blaspheming and heresy are good for the mind.

Ellery Schempp

30 comments

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  1. 1
    Argle Bargle

    If gods object to blasphemy then let them take care with the blasphemers. A thunderbolt or two, along with a voice from the heavens explaining why the victim was targeted, would shut down blasphemy really quickly. The theists must think their gods are either weak or uncaring if they don’t deal with blasphemers.

  2. 2
    Gretchen

    To attribute to man what any religion attributes to God could be (and often is) viewed as blasphemy by members of that religion. And we all do this with religions of which we are not members– those of us who are atheists do it with all religions, period. Therefore we are all blasphemers. Atheists are only the most obviously in need of protection from blasphemy laws, when in fact everyone is.

  3. 3
    citpeks

    Appreciating this all the more as I sit here reading it in my Abington township home.

  4. 4
    Michael Heath

    The value of blasphemy is important enough we should advocate for more, even in the private sphere. A sphere where some of us would suppress such “verbally offensive” speech to defend some from being offended, which is now falsely equated as harassment by some of our supposed free speech allies.

    Yeah, my ass remains chapped at our obvious hypocrisy on free speech; which I perceive is in defense of tribal members behaving poorly given our avoidance of their poor behavior. “Shut up!” and red herrings (about public vs. private venues) being the most memorable rebuttals to my pointing out the defect of our lauding blasphemy while simultaneously defending or enabling some from encountering it in venues where such speech should be featured rather than suppressed by threats of discipline to all who would even consider blaspheme. With no direct rebuttals of my core argument, just avoidance.

  5. 5
    Gretchen

    Michael, your core argument has been rebutted repeatedly. But even if it hadn’t, you appear to be trying for a degree in trolling by continuing to complain about it on any post related to freedom of speech. Start a blog and make that your first post, and people who give a damn can go there and argue with you about it.

  6. 6
    Eric Ressner

    The value of blasphemy is important enough we should advocate for more

    Letting my mind wander…(note the dreamwaves in video)….

    How about a National Endowment for the Arts and Blasphemy! And a National Institutes of Health and Blasphemy. Maybe … even … a Department of Homeland Security and Blasphemy.

    I know, I know: that’s as non-separationist as a state religion. So shoot me for dreaming.

  7. 7
    grumpyoldfart

    So, I say unto you, Go thou and blaspheme and sin. Sinning is good for the soul. Blaspheming and heresy are good for the mind.

    At my blog on blasphemy day, I blasphemed Allah, Yahweh, Ganesha, Mohammad and Jesus. So far the post has had 2 views – probably Google and Yahoo web crawlers. Ah well, I try.

  8. 8
    =8)-DX

    Santa Claus = Saint Nicholas. Nothing to do with Satan. (etymology: it works, bitches!)
    On a similar note we have local company here called SAT-AN (abbreviation of Satellite Antennas) and no one seems to bother…
    Otherwise good read, and thumbsup for blasphemy!

  9. 9
    kraut

    “Yeah, my ass remains chapped at our obvious hypocrisy on free speech; which I perceive is in defense of tribal members behaving poorly given our avoidance of their poor behavior. “Shut up!” and red herrings (about public vs. private venues) being the most memorable rebuttals to my pointing out the defect of our lauding blasphemy while simultaneously defending or enabling some from encountering it in venues where such speech should be featured rather than suppressed by threats of discipline to all who would even consider blaspheme. With no direct rebuttals of my core argument, just avoidance.”

    Having encountered censorship because of voicing contrarian views the moderators deemed offensive to others I can only say: fuck FTB.

    If anything that challenges the tribal beliefs and convictions is considered trolling, fuck those who consider it such and I will gladly leave them in their little playpen of self congratulatory masturbation.

    With few exceptions (Singham, Al Stefanelli, PZ, Nazreem)) I have come to lose respect for the rest of the lot.

  10. 10
    Michael Heath

    Gretchen writes:

    Michael, your core argument has been rebutted repeatedly.

    Than you should be able to link to two comment posts which do so.

    Gretchen writes:

    But even if it hadn’t, you appear to be trying for a degree in trolling by continuing to complain about it on any post related to freedom of speech. Start a blog and make that your first post, and people who give a damn can go there and argue with you about it.

    The exact pattern I observed previously, avoidance.

  11. 11
    Chris A

    @kraut #8:

    Can you be clearer please? You speak of the existence of great injustices, but do not actually say what they are. Some of us would love to have the time to follow all the FTB blogs every day, but simply can’t. Please expand upon your grievance.

  12. 12
    Chris A

    Er, that was #9, of course. I blame my faulty keyboard. That must be the problem…

  13. 13
    Michael Heath

    kraut writes:

    With few exceptions (Singham, Al Stefanelli, PZ, Nazreem)) I have come to lose respect for the rest of the lot.

    None of us are defect-free and we all have our blind-spots. From my perspective Ed’s performance in this area is stellar, as close to defect-free as any human could be. I can’t defend or attack any of the other FTB bloggers since I don’t read them enough, but Ed’s forum certainly provides an open environment to debate, to his great credit.

    Gretchen – besides demonstrating avoidance in your last comment post, which was exactly what I previously observed and reported in my first comment post above, your response is also somewhat illustrative of the “shut up” responses I received. In spite of a lack of direct rebuttals that would justify my “shutting up”. “Somewhat” since some were actually direct about it rather than the indirect method you apply here.

  14. 14
    Ichthyic

    Heath, how many threads on free speech have there been here?

    is it even statistically possible that:

    -you have never posted exactly what you have said here on those threads
    -and NOBODY debated what you said.

    I rather think the onus on burden of proof is yours, not gretchens

  15. 15
    kraut

    “None of us are defect-free and we all have our blind-spots. From my perspective Ed’s performance in this area is stellar”

    Yes, present company exempted, of course.

  16. 16
    kraut

    “You speak of the existence of great injustices, but do not actually say what they are”

    I don’t give a flying fuck about injustices, but proclaiming to begin a controversial topic with fanfare and then when the controversial shit hits the fan to censor – that is fucking hypocrisy and cowardice.
    Since my posts were deleted in at least two differnt forums, I stopped paying visits there.

  17. 17
    Chris A

    @kraut #16

    I am sorry, and I really do not mean to sound like I am being an asshole here, but I still have no idea what you are talking about. Who deleted your posts, and in which forums?

    In addition, if you could, I would like to know what thread you are referring to — I really have nothing to work with here…

  18. 18
    Gretchen

    Than [sic] you should be able to link to two comment posts which do so.

    And I would, if I gave a shit. But I don’t. If you couldn’t be bothered to read the first half dozen times, then I don’t expect you would be now. Point being, this blog is not about you. Ed does not write for you. So continually showing up in posts demanding that he do so is trolling. It would not reflect well on you even if your cause was entirely legitimate, which it isn’t. So, really….just stop.

  19. 19
    Chris A

    Oh, and what were you saying? I think you can count on Ed’s blog as being a reliable place for be able to say whatever you have to say.

  20. 20
    Chris A

    hm, it sounds like I should probably just walk away at this point. The good news is, I have more important things in my life to worry about than blog dramas. I hope you all have a peaceful evening.

  21. 21
    Michael Heath

    Gretchen writes:

    I would, if I gave a shit. But I don’t. If you couldn’t be bothered to read the first half dozen times, then I don’t expect you would be now. Point being, this blog is not about you. Ed does not write for you. So continually showing up in posts demanding that he do so is trolling. It would not reflect well on you even if your cause was entirely legitimate, which it isn’t. So, really….just stop.

    Well you obviously care enough to:
    a) post comments in response and,
    b) avoid engaging on the merits of my argument yet still,
    c) want me to shut up about this topic.

    And I read all the responses just fine, carefully enough to validate they avoided my objections; some wanted me to stop pointing out the hypocrisy of a tribal in-group, on the very week we’re celebrating Blasphemy Day which made the whole thing sadly ironic and therefore I think doubly worthy of raising. It’s all so easy to ridicule the other side, unfortunately some of us don’t seem to have the stomach to condemn the same behavior when it comes from an in-group. We avoid and ask for people to shut-up about it.

    And once again on this topic you continually misrepresent my position. I never argued or even imagined this blog was about me or that Ed writes for me nor have I demanded anything from anybody in this forum. The fact you continually misconstrue what I’ve written, avoid it, and repeatedly ask me to shut-up about it, instead suggests motivations or positions you’re not willing to defend are in play.

  22. 22
    Gretchen

    *rolls her eyes and walks away*

  23. 23
    TCC

    Michael, where else have you laid out this argument? I ask because 1) there seems to be some history that I’m not aware of (my visits here have been less frequent lately) and 2) I still can’t understand what the hell you’re trying to say about the alleged “defect” in supporting blasphemy. I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but your argument is so hopelessly vague (and seemingly contradictory) that I can’t even find a way to interpret it charitably, and I’d prefer to read what has already been set forth rather than have you rehash your points further in this thread.

  24. 24
    Chris A

    *offers a hand to Gretchen to hold while skipping away gaily.* Not that there is anything wrong with that.

  25. 25
    John Phillips, FCD

    Michael Heath, you have made your position about this matter clear a number of times and others, including Ed, disagree with you. Ed has even told you why he disagrees with you but you dismiss that as him not being willing to debate you. So you have conflicting opinions on the matter, especially as you are talking about a private organisation while Ed is usually talking about the public sphere, and it is obvious that there isn’t going to be agreement on the issue, so yes, you are IMO, and just on this topic, becoming an obsessive bore. But hey, that’s your right, it just means that I just tend to skip past any of your posts in any thread where you start off on your hobby horse, yeah I know, a big loss to you :).

    BTW, like Ed said in reply to you in an earlier blog, I sort of agree with you, at least inasmuch as the policy could be worded a lot clearer so that there is no room for confusion. But that aside, if the wording used in the explanation their rep gave on this and other ftb blogs was incorporated into the policy, I would have no problem with it. I.e. highlighting that the policy is to prevent harassment of individuals and not to prevent criticism of ideas.

  26. 26
    heddle

    My two cents on the skepticon policy is that it is reasonable but unnecessary. The common assumption that you can harass ideas but not people should be sufficient. With or without this policy, if I went to a skepticon (and I plan to, actually, though not the next one) I would expect to hear numerous references to how awful religion is. I would expect to be able, with normal conference behavior, to ask questions during the Q&A. I would expect, during coffee breaks, that people might come up to me and, on some spectrum from polite to belligerent, challenge me–and that is perfectly fine. However, I would also expect that if I said “Please, I just want to have my coffee in peace and go back and listen to the talks” that if someone then followed me around the lobby and kept engaging in the verbal equivalent of shooting spitballs at the back of my head–then at that point they have crossed the line and would be told to cease and desist.

    I guess I am the only one who reads Michael’s comments this way–and I may be wrong: I would summarize his many comments as trying to say, by using many words to obfuscate the fact that he is actually saying it (though coming close at times) that religious attendees should be given less protection than other potential targets for abuse.

    Otherwise his comments make no sense. It is quite clear that you can give a talk that is as strongly anti-religious as you want it to be (short, I hope, of calling for violence against anyone). What more could you ask for? If ideas can be criticized and mocked freely, then the only next step is to expand what is considered acceptable treatment toward anyone professing those ideas. I read Michael as wanting that expansion in matters of religion.

  27. 27
    joachim

    Of course “blasphemy” gives good cover for telling Christians how stupid, delusional, and psychotic they are, and how they are immoral as well.

    And that is hate speech of course…effective, yes, but still hate speech.

    And admit it, its OK because they deserve it.

    In your heart, you know I’m right! …snicker…

  28. 28
    billgascoyne

    “There were but little work left for preaching, if law and compulsion should grow so fast upon those things which hithertofore were governed only by exhortation.”
    John Milton (1608-1674)

  29. 29
    Michael Heath

    heddle writes:

    I guess I am the only one who reads Michael’s comments this way–and I may be wrong: I would summarize his many comments as trying to say, by using many words to obfuscate the fact that he is actually saying it (though coming close at times) that religious attendees should be given less protection than other potential targets for abuse.

    Of course not. I’m arguing that if we value a principle we should attempt to apply it as consistently as possible. And if we argue that principle is valuable, we should encourage it in venues which we control. We need to set an example to others; not start out the registration process with a first impression towards all registrants that gives the very opposite impression. That “offensive verbal speech” against another’s religion is harassment (it’s not) and grounds for being expelled or disciplined; which one of the organizers claims won’t happen, they may arbitrarily ignore the very policy they’ve demanded all registrants submit to in order to register.

    heddle writes:

    I would expect to hear numerous references to how awful religion is. I would expect to be able, with normal conference behavior, to ask questions during the Q&A. I would expect, during coffee breaks, that people might come up to me and, on some spectrum from polite to belligerent, challenge me–and that is perfectly fine. However, I would also expect that if I said “Please, I just want to have my coffee in peace and go back and listen to the talks” that if someone then followed me around the lobby and kept engaging in the verbal equivalent of shooting spitballs at the back of my head–then at that point they have crossed the line and would be told to cease and desist.

    The first scenario you expect is a great example of what we should encourage not just against religion but all ideas, including atheism. Such communications could very well include “offensive verbal speech” regarding another’s religion or disbelief. Your latter example of following someone around is clearly harassment where the organizers should have some effective plan to minimize such harassment without having to come out as anti-speech in their registration process. There are countless conventions which successfully do this without suppressing speech with a policy all registrants must sign which also misconstrues the difference between a type of speech and harassment. And again, the policy doesn’t limit itself to harassment, it instead first demands submission to all its registrants regarding speech and then misconstrues harassment as ‘offensive verbal speech’.

    When I was a teenager I went to a lot of evangelical conventions, some where the attendees numbered in the thousands if not ten+ thousand. I encountered a number of debates, including some that became heated; probably because those teens debating the adults there didn’t feel the communal pressure to succumb to their local authority figures or risk their place in their local tribe. Never once was I required to sign something checking a part of speech rights at the door. Never once was I required to submit to a check on my speech that mutated the meeting of one type of speech, “verbally offensive speech” to a behavior we should all abhor, harassment. I wasn’t one of those making such heated debates, even then I preferred cold, dry, arguably heartless logic.

    heddle writes:

    Otherwise his comments make no sense. It is quite clear that you can give a talk that is as strongly anti-religious as you want it to be (short, I hope, of calling for violence against anyone). What more could you ask for? If ideas can be criticized and mocked freely, then the only next step is to expand what is considered acceptable treatment toward anyone professing those ideas. I read Michael as wanting that expansion in matters of religion.

    heddle, the policy is directed towards all registrants, not just speakers. So the policy applies to interaction between everyone. And you do not describe the policy correctly, so you’ve created a strawman which you then knock down. For example you claim, “if ideas can be criticized and mocked freely” ; but that’s my point, you can’t according to the policy’s clear unambiguous language. Language which prohibits such mockery if it’s verbal and on certain topics, which includes, “another’s religion”; where registrants who’ve submitted this right then have to have some faith their verbally offensive speech which isn’t harassment won’t be disciplined by the organizers in spite of their policy – gag me with a spoon.

  30. 30
    Michael Heath

    Here’s an excellent example of a policy which doesn’t suppress valued speech while noting disruptions and actual harassment will rightly not be tolerated: http://www.csiconference.org/about.php

    It’s for this year’s CSICon12. (Center for Skeptical Inquiry). I noticed this event because an ad is frequently being displayed in the far right column of Ed’s blog posts today.

    When skepticon’s repugnant anti-speech policy was first noted, I politely advised one of the skepticon organizers she should go benchmark how other events deal with disruptions and harassment. This policy might have helped sway them given my arguments were avoided with red herrings presented instead, or that at least one organizer would violate their own policy arbitrarily; both of which demonstrates a lack of respect for their registrants’ speech rights.

  1. 31
    Ellery Schempp, Who Helped Put a Stop to Bible Readings in Public Schools, Applauds Ayaan Hirsi Ali for Her Courage

    […] few years ago, I gave a speech about blasphemy and I think what I said is still relevant […]

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