Down with blasphemy laws

The BBC alerts us to a new global campaign by humanist organizations against blasphemy laws.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) says that, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, the time is right for countries to abolish laws that protect religious sensibilities. But blasphemy laws nevertheless remain popular in many parts of the world.

We know, Beeb, that’s why the campaign is needed.

Sonja Eggerickx is the president of IHEU which works to promote an evidence-led ethical society.

She says the campaign is intended to support local people on the ground already working against blasphemy laws.

“The idea that ‘insult’ to religion is a crime is why humanists like Asif Mohiuddin are jailed in Bangladesh, is why secularists like Raif Badawi are being lashed in Saudi Arabia, is why atheists and religious minorities are persecuted in places like Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, and the list goes on,” she says.

It certainly does. It’s a very long list indeed. It has Lars Vilks on it. It has Elisabeth Wallin on it – the Swedish photographer who did the photo for the cover of the Swedish translation of Does God Hate Women? It has Taslima Nasreen on it. It has Salman Rushdie, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Wendy Doniger, M. F. Hussain – and on and on.

The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, which represents 56 Islamic states, has repeatedly tried to get United Nations support for an international measure to outlaw insults to religion.

It says that such a resolution would protect groups from discrimination.

Last year, the organisation’s secretary general, Iyan Ameen Madani, said that freedom of expression was clashing with Islamic teachings.

He criticised countries who refused to limit free speech, which he said was harming religious minorities.

“Muslim countries enacting laws to ensure respect for the sanctity and reputation of religious values, scriptures and personalities for promotion of peace in society, are criticised on account of limiting this freedom through blasphemy laws,” he said.

That’s right. That’s because humanists, in contrast to theocrats, think religious values, scriptures and personalities must be wide open to criticism and mockery, because otherwise people aren’t free or able to decide for themselves whether or not to accept and obey them.

Some European countries also criminalise anti-religious sentiments in some form.

In 2012 there were 99 convictions for “public blasphemy” in Malta, with punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment.

And in 2014, Russian MPs voted for a new law against offending religious feelings.

It followed a political protest by members of the group Pussy Riot in Moscow’s Orthodox cathedral.

The charge against the three included “insult to religious feelings”.

Russia is famous for its long and glorious history of human rights.

Oh wait, no it’s not. More the opposite.

Those who want to extend religious insult laws are also making plans.

The UN Human Rights Council says it is likely that the issue of insulting religions will be raised at the council’s upcoming sessions in March, at the request of Saudi Arabia.

Yeah, let’s pay attention to what Saudi Arabia says about human rights!

On second thought let’s kick it off the HRC.

The IHEU campaign, though, is not about encouraging discrimination, says Bob Churchill, its director of communications.

“Our campaign does not target laws against incitement to hatred, which are legitimate,” he said.

Mr Churchill also rejects the charge of cultural imperialism.

“The reality is that minority voices for change and reform are there. The problem is they often cannot be heard.”

Because blasphemy laws make them so very very quiet.


  1. Vincent says

    “In 2012 there were 99 convictions for “public blasphemy” in Malta, with punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment.”

    And Malta is also the only country in the union where abortion is illegal even in case of rape.

  2. PatrickG says

    I’d forgotten Saudia Arabia was recently elected to the HRC. What a travesty.

    Perhaps other member countries will demonstrate some vertebrae at the next session and push for discussion of some topics Saudi Arabia would much rather not discuss.

  3. johnthedrunkard says

    The Quran itself is blasphemous to both Christians and Jews. And Islam hold both the Old and New Testaments to be corrupt and false.

    If ‘offending sensibilities’ can be criminalized, where do you stop?

  4. RJW says

    Now, let’s think, which organisation is promoting ‘cultural imperialism’, the OIC or the IHEU? The Islamist theocrats are frightened of liberty, that’s not surprising.
    I can remember during the 1990s, the monumentally naive assumptions by Western commentators that post-Soviet Russia would be transformed into a capitalist democracy, it never occurred to them that the ‘ancien regime’ would be re-instated.

  5. says

    You left out Canada. Yes, we have an anti-blasphemy law, and while it exempts legitimate criticism of religion, it’s not clear what that means. It hasn’t been used since 1935, and would be unlikely today to survive a Charter challenge — but really, who wants that kind of hassle?

  6. says

    @ Iyan Ameen Madani

    “Muslim countries enacting [blasphemy] laws to ensure respect for the sanctity and reputation of religious values…

    Ensure respect? What a load of crap, you bullyboy shitweasel. Blasphemy laws have nothing to do with “respect” and everything to do with submission. It’s no coincidence Islamists are the ones pounding the drum. Submission is what Islam requires, made plain by the call to prayer 5 times, 5 fucking times a day: Get on Your Knees and Plant Your Face on the Carpet or Die.

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