Can I be banned in Boston, please?

Massachusetts has a law on the books that could have gotten me in trouble: Chapter 272, Section 36. Blasphemy.

Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.

Blake Stacey and the Reveres missed their opportunity to turn me in last time I was in their state … although, come to think of it, we were probably more like a gang of outlaws together.


  1. Dale says

    Isn’t the law contradictory? On the one hand it says you shouldn’t ridicule the religious concepts, then says as punishment you are bound to good behaviour.

    I thought ridiculing religious concepts -was- good behaviour!

  2. Chris says

    I guess I think this law is kind of totally ok, just because it’s so great that it uses the phrase “contumeliously reproaching”. That would SO never happen in a law written in our illiterate age. State-established religion? A mere pittance by comparison.

  3. PBDPBD says

    Speaking of laws, atheism, and trouble… I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but it seems that the rational response squad youtube account has been deleted because Hovind’s family has been complaining about copyright issues on videos they do not hold the copyright to.

  4. says

    I’ve spent a lot of time in Massachusetts. My low end estimae is probably at least a year total.

    In that year I’ve blasphemed on a regular basis. I suppose I should be serving a life with no parole term in prison because of it.

    This law goes way back and was probably one of the prime motivators for Roger Williams to found Providence/Rhode Island.

  5. Brian English says

    I’ll put my hand up and admit I’d never heard of the word
    Here’s a definition for anyone else who missed that in English Expression class:
    contumeliously – adverb –
    without respect; in a disdainful manner; “she spoke of him contemptuously” [syn: contemptuously]

    Thanks PZ, I learnt a new word and got another reason not to visit the states. Ah sweet smuggness…oh wait! I live in a country run by your president’s bootlicker…Doh!

  6. Brain Hertz says

    I guess I think this law is kind of totally ok, just because it’s so great that it uses the phrase “contumeliously reproaching”.

    Indeed. I offer my warmest contrafibularities to whoever wrote it.

  7. Brain Hertz says


    preliminary: IANAL, and clearly this sort of thing requires one.

    As far as I know, the most immediately effective response to a DMCA notification requiring take down of infringing material is to file a DMCA counter claim with the service provider (YouTube in this case).

    Example here:

    As with the DMCA notification itself, of course you need to be very sure that you are stating the facts correctly, since such a notice also requires certification by the notifier, under penalty of perjury, that the counter claim is accurate (read: hire a lawyer to write it).

  8. Evil Johnny O says

    I live in Massachusetts, and I’m going to go out and try to get arrested for this. It’s really frightening that this crap is still on the books in 2007.

  9. Kimpatsu says

    try living in England, folks, where blasphemy is still a crime on the statute books, and was last used in the 1970s to prosecute a gay magazine. At least you have the 1st amendment (which contradicts the state law).

  10. says

    One of PG Wodehouse’s great throwaway lines referring to a book ‘Banned in Boston, I believe.’ (The book in question was Whipple ‘On the care of the pig’, Popgood and Grooly)

    England is worse than Kimpatsu admits: you can be fined (and people have) for wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Bollocks to Blair’, (such people are being froward as well as contumelious). And only recently a comedian who addressed an anti arms trade rally was stopped and searched by the police for being ‘overconfident.’

  11. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    Perhaps the New Atheist attitude towards religion could be re-framed as ‘contumelious reproachfulness’. That should elicit the same response from an audience as the use of “jactitation” by the local prosecutor in Inherit The Wind.

  12. Hairy Doctor Professor says

    #11: Don’t they ever update their books?


    Due to a change in the laws that was made in 1994, retailers are no longer restricted to opening at 12:00 noon and may open at any time on Sundays without the need for approval by the Department of Labor, and without the need for a local police permit.

    We still have a bunch of archaic statutes that make no sense, collectively known as “blue laws”, although the term specifically applies to issues involving Sundays as shown here. Check out for more official Sunday/Holiday nuttiness.

  13. Nomen Nescio says

    I live in Massachusetts, and I’m going to go out and try to get arrested for this. It’s really frightening that this crap is still on the books in 2007.

    speaking as a Michigander, i can recommend enforcement of the law as a method of abolishing it.

  14. CortxVortx says

    Re: #17

    Only if he was anus-peptic, phrasmotic, or even compunctious.

    (And now, to Mrs. Miggins’ Literary Salon …)

    — CV

  15. Elliott Grasett says

    FWIW, you can be charged in Canada with something called Blasphemous Libel.

    Blasphemous Libel [From the Criminal Code of Canada]


    296. (1) Every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

    Question of fact
    (2) It is a question of fact whether or not any matter that is published is a blasphemous libel.

    (3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under this section for expressing in good faith and in decent language, or attempting to establish by argument used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, an opinion on a religious subject.

    R.S., c. C-34, s. 260.

    Notice that “question of fact” bit. You won’t know if you’ve committed an offense (or, as we Canucks say, “offence”) until the jury says you have.

  16. says

    PZ Myers:

    I just realized that Blake Stacey and the Reveres sounds like a good name for a rock band.

    Yeah, and our fans keep getting in barfights with the people who play the Flailing Framers on the jukebox. Fortunately, Flailing Framer fans are all whiny little emo brats. . . .

  17. Denis Castaing says

    Maybe we need a concerted effort to get this outdated law changed. I volunteer for myself. If we meet I’ll bring along some free “Atheist & Proud” buttons.
    We may need a legal defense fund.
    Denis C

  18. says

    To all you criminals out there: Since atheists claim to be more ethical and honest than their religious compeers, let it be known that if you have blasphemed in Massachusetts it is not only against the law but you are subject to a $300 fine. As one who believes laws should be obeyed, I have taken it upon myself to collect the fines you all have incurred. Please send your $300 (cash or money order) to Revere, c/o Seed publications. I’ll see that it gets to the right place. So help me God.

  19. stogoe says

    YouTube is just terrorized by the MPAA and the RIAA – it’s obviously Fair Use, and there’s a clear revocation of all copyright claims on each of Hovind’s tapes. Hovind can kiss my glorious golden ass.

    Oh, and PZ put a post of this up in the last week or so.

  20. Chris says


    This is from a SCOTUS ruling in Torcaso v Watkins, 1961:

    “We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’ Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”

    I have no legal education, so I don’t know how relevant this is, but it would seem at first glance to make all such laws irrelevant.

  21. MAJeff says

    Salem, anyone?

    Took my parents, visiting from Minnesota, there last Friday. We skipped the Witch Museum (tacky animatronics–been there with aunts and sister) and went to the House of Seven Gables instead. Marblehead was prettier, though.

  22. OptimusShr says

    I am considering going to the police station and turning myself in.

    OK, I’m not that daring. Amazing how this stuff never gets repealed.

  23. Rieux says

    I went to college in Massachusetts and helped found an atheist/humanist student group at my college. We used that statute as a recruitment device; nothing sells to college students like lawbreakin’.

  24. Suze says

    Suck it, Massachusetts!

    C’mon, Massachusetts gets a lot right in my liberal mind. And in much more recent history. I’m considering relocating there as an antidote to Alabama.