Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day, created five years ago by the Center for Inquiry to call attention to laws around the world that punish religious dissent. Ron Lindsay has an essay on the subject that is well worth reading, pointing out both the scope of the problem and the hypocrisy of such laws.
Too many nations still have laws punishing their citizens for religious dissent, contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as several United Nations covenants and conventions. Roughly fifty persons in various countries, all with Muslim majorities, are currently in prison as a result of blasphemy convictions, with a significant percentage on death row. Some of the punishments imposed on offenders are truly barbaric, such as the 1,000 lashes to which Saudi dissenter Raif Badawi has been sentenced. (The flogging of Badawi is scheduled to begin within the next few weeks.)
These harsh punishments can be presumed to have their intended effect: they intimidate religious minorities into keeping silent, embolden their persecutors, and help immunize majoritarian religious views from criticism…It’s a profound irony that the prophets who founded the three major monotheistic religions all complained bitterly about the persecution they and their followers faced, at least if we are to believe the statements attributed to them. It’s an irony because as soon as these religions gained controlled of a territory they immediately undertook to relentlessly persecute those of different faiths. If the Hebrew Bible is to be credited, the ancient Israelites make the fanatics of ISIS look like UN peacekeepers…
Protecting the fundamental human right to free expression, including the right to express one’s views on religious issues, is an ongoing struggle. Whether this fundamental right will ever gain truly universal recognition remains an open question. What is not in doubt is that if we who support free expression become apathetic about this struggle, the right to free expression will erode. Fanatics never lack for motivation.