As if You Needed Another Reason to Celebrate Blasphemy Rights’ Day

After the upheaval in the Muslim world over the (terribly put together) “Innocence of Muslims” video, it looks like there will be a strong push in the United Nations to criminalize blasphemy (in case you didn’t have enough of a reason to celebrate for International Blasphemy Rights’ Day next Sunday).  

Protesters have ignored the United States government’s denunciation of the video and Pakistan actually declared Friday as the “Day of Love” for the Prophet Muhammad.

Certain Muslim leaders are now pushing to punish blasphemers:

For years the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, a 57-member bloc of countries, has proposed a resolution criminalising the defamation of religion. By last year free-speech proponents had persuaded so many countries to ditch the cause that no new defamation-of-religion resolution was proposed.

Now, Turkey heads the Organisation and the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said he would raise the topic in New York next week.

Many free speech activists are obviously concerned about this. Organizations (like Amnesty International) and Western democracies have resisted such a law for years since the blasphemy laws were generally the result of repressive regimes and the imprisonment or execution of dissidents (as in the cases of Pussy Riot and Alber Saber).

Courtney Radsch, program manager for the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign at the non-profit group Freedom House, had this to say:

“I expect that we’ll regress to where we were a couple of years ago. Human rights are not about protecting religions; human rights are to protect humans,” she said. “Who is going to be the decision-maker on deciding what blasphemy is?”

That is what is so problematic about blasphemy laws: We never really have a good answer for what constitutes blasphemy. Does my existence as an atheist count? Can I proclaim out loud that there’s no God? There are several countries in the world that throw people in jail for being apostates or atheists and there are too many nuances where this could easily get out of hand.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon disappointed free-speech activists last week by suggesting limitations to freedom of speech when it was “used to provoke or humiliate” which is still too vague to be of any use. These laws prosecute hurt feelings and that’s not (and shouldn’t be) a criminal offense.

Atheist groups are speaking out about this proposed law, too, including the Atheist Foundation of Australia:

The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) in the strongest possible terms opposes the United Nations moving to a stance where blasphemy will be made a crime. David Nicholls president of the AFA responded today with “It should be emphasised to the UN how irrelevant blasphemy is in a democratic secular society such as Australia and other western countries. We would do well to strongly remind those that propose worldwide blasphemy laws that our opinion of the idea of blasphemy is that it is just a tool to stifle criticism of religion, and in this country we welcome criticism and discussion. Ban Ki-Moon is making a grave error of judgment on this matter and appears to be pandering to the Islamic world.”

Nicholls continued, “Blasphemy laws are essentially religious laws, and will always impose upon people in other religions and the non-religious. Blasphemy laws serve to deny people the right to question, to explore the possibilities or to come to their own conclusions. To artificially restrict the marketplace of ideas only to those imposed by fear and force is to deny people the right to decide for themselves.”

The Center for Inquiry agrees with those sentiments:

“Let us not go down this path, a path that inevitably leads to the persecution and demonization of individuals for their beliefs — or lack of beliefs — about religion,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry. “Free expression is a fundamental human right. Too many are already sitting in jail, or have been injured, terrorized, or killed for exercising that right. It’s bad enough that these ‘blasphemy laws’ exist at all, anywhere in the world. To enact them on a global scale would represent a huge step backward for human rights.”

So true. As the saying goes, “Blasphemy is a victimless crime.”

About Kelley Freeman

Kelley is a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina. She is a former president of the Secular Student Alliance at the University of South Carolina and a former intern for both SSA and Foundation Beyond Belief. Kelley is also a board member for both Camp Quest South Carolina and the Carolinas Secular Association, a Volunteer Network Coordinator for the southeastern region for the SSA, runs a vlog series called Secular Start Up, sometimes does stand up comedy and can crochet like a fiend. She's on her way to becoming a Jane of All Trades. Follow her on twitter @ramenneedles

  • Holytape
  • Vend Tana

    Stuff like this scares me. I live in the US, where free speech was invented, so I sure hope I have nothing to worry about. But to think that it can be a crime to be an atheist is just unfathomable to me.

    The UK is being bullied by the radical Muslims. Talk about siding with the wrong people!
    Instead of making anti-blasphemy laws, why don’t they criminalize rioting in the name of your religion, over a perceived insult to it?

  • Xinen

    This is a scary topic. Regardless I would still speak as openly as possible in daily life even if such a law was ever passed. I’m all for freedom and loathe censorship. Still it would be incredibly difficult to enforce this without creating some sort of terror state where anyone could accuse another of blasphemy which has historical and even modern problems. If only the religous world would adopt a “stiff upper lip” policy. Seriously, get over yourselves.

  • Len

    No worries, Canada is already good to go for blasphemy laws:
    Criminal Code of Canada296 – Blasphemous Libel

    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.

  • Philovaihinger

    Studying Russian?

    Good for you.

  • Nathan

    Egypt is already prosecuting blasphemers 

  • Marco Conti

    Make no mistake: christians would love to have a worldwide blasphemy law, but they know better than to ask for one. That ship for them sailed a long time ago.

    Enter the muslims. Their tactic is that anytime anyone, anywhere says something that displeases them, they go batshit crazy.  
    If I were muslim, I would be ashamed of these proposed blasphemy laws.
    We are basically treating them like slightly retarded children because when they are offended they act like 5 year olds in a temper tantrum. Except some of them carry AK 47 and rocket launchers.

    So they are basically blackmailing us into treating them like spoiled children but that way they are not getting our respect. They are only getting our fear and they make it harder for anyone wanting to sympathize with them about the many other injustices they are victims of. 

    Is that really how they want to be seen? Why isn’t anyone relevant  in their camp speaking for freedom of speech? Am I the only one that sees that if a blasphemy law is passed is only because western societies are bowing not to their superior civilization but to their inability to be civilized.

  • TychaBrahe

    I’d almost like to see those laws passed so that these Muslim countries could be told to shut up about the Jews.  

    Almost.  Irony is SO sweet.

    But not anywhere near really.

  • Agnostic

    The fastest growing religion in the world will soon be dominant by virtue of its high birthrate and still people are so ignorant what the religion teaches. Educate yourselves.

  • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    I used to use the clever line that “Blasphemy is a victimless crime” (i.e., since there is no god to be suffering from being mocked).

    But the very idea of Blasphemy is a crime. It’s a crime against me and every other human who has an idea they want to express. It’s a crime against the basic human right to express oneself without being coerced into thinking that some topics are too “sacred” to be opening critiqued.

    Blasphemy is a human right.  Laws against Blasphemy crush human self-expression.

  • Bart Mitchell

    My religion is Free Speech.  Passing any law that abridges the right to any form of free expression is a blasphemy against my faith.  Ergo, any law that prohibits the mocking of a religion is automatically a blasphemy of my faith.  

    Now it’s impossible to create a blasphemy law that is itself not a blasphemy.  I fixed it for you, you can thank me later :)

  • A3Kr0n

     “I would rather be exposed to the
    inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a
    degree of it.”

    -Thomas Jefferson-

  • Alexander Ryan

    Oh dear. If this kind of thing takes fruition, we might need a secret underground Atheist organization.

  • Rkhboettger

    If you think Mohammed was the greatest thing since sliced bread and I think he is lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut, that’s a difference of opinion, not blasphemy.  If you think that Jesus was the son of god and I think he was a deluded first century rabbi, that’s a disagreement, not blasphemy.  If you think Joseph Smith was a prophet and I think he was a con man, I am right and you are wrong.

  • JohnnieCanuck

    To all these people that rise up in anger and violence when their god or his prophet might have been insulted, why can’t this god speak up for itself or mete out punishment as it sees fit?

    Of the various possibilities, maybe their god really doesn’t care about the people who don’t believe in him or show him respect. He certainly seems to take little interest in such matters.

    I take it these people aren’t worried that their actions imply that their god is powerless or even non-existent. Actually, I think the reason they react as they do is because of their uncertainty. This seems to help them ignore the disbelievers and suppress their own reasonable doubts.

  • compl3x

     Always amusing to watch people with 12th century thinking trying to live in the 21st.

  • michael both

    I think you should be posting this elsewhere. I daresay most people who read / interact on this blog are among the most educated with respect to general knowledge of the world’s religions.

  • Matt E

    The only victims of blasphemy are the people charged under anti-blasphemy laws.

  • Edmond

    Tell them to move that pop-out menu to somewhere other than right on top of the scroll bar, sheesh

  • Richard Wade

    According to number (3) In other words, you can say you think the other guy’s religion is full of shit, as long as you really think “in good faith” (ahem) that it is full of shit, and you attempt to establish by argument “in good faith” (ahem) that it’s full of shit, as long as you don’t actually use the phrase, “full of shit”?

    Okay, that’s not very hard, and that would probably be a more devastating statement anyway.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    Bah, it doesn’t matter for three reasons
    1) Many people just ignore international laws when it suites them 
    2) The more liberal countries would not, i hope, allow the laws to be passed
    3) It is the UN and they have no power to enforce the laws unless it is given to them by the countries in it.

  • James Buchy

    “…the US, where free speech was invented…” Sorry but free speech predates the existence of the US by over 2000 years. Freedom of speech and expression has a long history that predates modern international human rights instruments. It is thought that ancient Athens’ democratic ideology of free speech may have emerged in the late 6th or early 5th century BC. Two of the most cherished values of the Roman Republic were freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

  • Ned Ludd

    I have read many articles saying how the film how stupid and idiotic it is. No one has apparently seen the whole film, but from the extract that I saw, it is no more stupid and idiotic than the Koran.  The only difference is that over a billion morons worship the Koran. Yes, Muslims if you believe that the thieving con man Muhammad  was a prophet, I mean you. First there are no prophets and second, when I say Muhammad was a con man, that is only assuming he existed. I don’t think he did. If you are not offended, I’ll have to try harder.

  • Keith Collyer

     At the risk of sound like a “no true Scotsman” fallacy, it has to be said that the protesters are very much in a minority. Most muslims are fully aware that the film has nothing to do with the US government and there have been many (sadly mostly unreported) demonstrations in support of the murdered ambassador in Libya. One thing most countries where demonstrations have occurred have in common is that they have (or have just emerged from) autocratic governments where such a film could only be made with state backing.
    Anyway, blasphemy laws, bad thing. Here in the UK prosecutions have effectively been stopped (and there haven’t been any for years). Of course, the UK laws only regard christianity as a target for blasphemy (established religion). If blasphemy were to be made universal, then pretty much all muslims (and others who who deny christ’s divinity) would be subject to them, as would all who deny Mohamed is allah’s prophet, etc.

  • Maria

    That would be the worst thing we could do! That would literally be like slavery being re-instated, so now the underground railroad is back in effect!  No, the only way to combat something like this if it were to pass would be to shout dissension from the rooftops, Everyone screaming blasphemy at the top of their lungs! Forcing people into underground secret groups would be the aim of something like that.

  • Tainda

    This is total bullshit.  If you think blasphemy is a sin against god, let god deal with us and shut the fuck up. 
    I read in one article that a spokesman for one of the muslim groups said “our heart is crying bloody tears.  We can bear anything but disrespect for our Prophet and Quaran.”   I finished that quote for him.  Oh, and infidels.  Oh, and women.  Oh, and homosexuals.  Oh, and…

  • Slugsie

    Even more fundamental that deciding what is actually blasphemous is who gets to decide what counts as a religion that can be blasphemed to begin with? I’m sure that FSMism has more ‘adherants’ worldwide than some other ‘recognised’ religions. The potential for mocking and mischief that such a blasphemy law could allow should not be underestimated in the unfortunate event that it actually happens.

  • keddaw

    Blasphemy laws in the UK were repealed a good few years ago, mainly to get our laws in line with some EU directive that gives people human rights that includes the ability to criticise religion.

    Strange then that Turkey would be trying to propose a UN resolution that they themselves could not actually enforce.

  • matt

    “That would literally be like slavery being re-instated…”  No, it would be nothing like that.

  • C Peterson

    I would choose jail before giving up my right to say “fuck Mohammed in his bloody a-hole”. Or Jesus, or God, or the whole ménage à trois.

  • Tainda

    That would be one hairy threesome

  • icecreamassassin

    “Most muslims are fully aware that the film has nothing to do with the US government and there have been (sadly mostly unreported) demonstrations in support of the murdered ambassador in Libya.”

    This brings up an interesting point; one of the things that I’ve always complained about is that whenever I see stories like this I do *not* see a barrage of progressive Muslims coming down with words of condemnation; I do *not* see collectives of Muslim groups getting together and debating how to stop these actions from occurring.

    Is this because it doesn’t happen, or because the world has not given an appropriate platform for the progressive Muslim community to properly respond?

  • MariaO

    I have not seen “a barrage of progressive xians” condemn the terrorism of Norweigian Breivik either… (But I have a heard a lot of  “he is not a true xian.”)

  • RickRayFSM

    I am obviously a proponent of FSM ism and if people want to make fun of me, go right ahead.  I’ll laugh along with you.  That’s because my wanting to wear a pirate outfit, drink beer from a volcano  and have a strip factory in Pastafarian heaven does not control my life like the major religions.  By being a Pastafarian you are basically telling all religions to ‘fuck-off’ with your archaic mind controlling bullshit Bible and Koran.   By the way, if you’re interested read “The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”   RAMEN  to the sane folk! 

  • Vend Tana

    Good lord, did I really need to put “;-)” after that statement? Thanks for the totally unnecessary pedantry. I was being facetious. 

  • Alex

    +1. Every time I hear about “respect” to Quran, to Jesus, to any other religious bullshit, I always have the same question: on what grounds? What in the damn world gives you idea that deeply believing some ancient nonsense gives you some special privilege that states that no-one has the right to say anything about it? If I say something that offends your religious beliefs, then I am very sorry… that you hold such idiotic beliefs.

  • Christie

    If the UN did this because of the riots that would be the UN giving into terrorism. Laws should be made based on reason, not violence.

  • Sindigo

    Hey, it can be difficult to tell sometimes. Especially with you ‘muricans. ;-)

  • Vend Tana

    True, true. Hopefully most of the Americans who post here are moderately edumacated though.

  • Sindigo

    It’s usually pretty easy to spot the ones that aren’t.  And that goes for all nations.

  • Belgianatheist

    The terrorist deeds of Anders Breivik were notionalistic and xenofobic in nature. All across Europe left-wing organisations condemned the attack and showed their compassion with the victims, their families and their friends. Be aware that the use of the name Breivik and progressive in one sentence can cause confusion. 
    It was the extreme right that was extremely quiet in the days after the bombing and shooting in Norway. I get the point you try to make btw.

  • Rickntracie

    Here’s the bottom line regarding blasphemy – you can’t make ME follow the rules of YOUR religion.  End of discussion.  Got it?

  • Steve Hawley

     Bart, I’d like to quote you on my status when I share this article. OK?

  • Brian Macker

    ” the (terribly put together) ‘Innocence of Muslims’ video”

    If the video had groundbreaking production qualities I very much doubt you would be pointing that out at every opportunity.   Why are the people who posts articles on this blog constantly pointing out how bad the video was in terms of production quality?   What’s the agenda here?    You think if you didn’t point that out then everyone would mistakely think the video was of high quality?

  • Brian Macker

    Isn’t that the definition of blasphemy, disagreement with religious dogma?

  • Brian Macker

    I have.  I read the Qur’an and Hadiths about the life of Mohammad.  He was a an evil man and the religion he invented reflects that fact.

  • Seekingsusan10

    … doesn’t the scripture give a person the “freedom” to choose? And isn’t it more often “man” that “chooses” to condemn/persecute/destroy/murder his fellow brothers & sisters for not following them and their choice to follow other leaders whom pretend to be “good Christians”?  Just saying. I believe in God and following the bible and it has nothing to do with “Christianity” or going to church. I am tired of people following people and totally screwing up what God planned and that’s why we have this mess! All this hatred, destruction and murdering! That is not love.