Freedom House have published a study on the impact of blasphemy laws in 7 countries, from Greece to Poland, titled “Policing Belief“.The principal question is really whether blasphemy laws violate or protect human rights.There have been recent attempts at a political level, through the United Nations, by countries like Saudi-Arabia(which ironically employs a religious police to ensure the rights and freedoms of one particular religious sect), to have blasphemy laws on an international level established to ensure “religious tolerance”.Let’s be frank here, what this is is an attempt to get a license to freedom from scrutiny or criticism, or freedom to persecute those who do not adhere to their belief.
This is what it is about, and why blasphemy laws are problematic:
By definition, these laws, which are designed to protect religious institutions, doctrines, figures, and concepts—in other words, nonhuman entities and ideas—from insult or offense, impose undue restrictions on freedom of expression. Moreover, blasphemy laws are often vaguely worded and ill-defined, making them prone to arbitrary or overly broad application, particularly in settings where there are no checks and balances in place to prevent such abuses. In countries with weak democracies, authoritarian systems, or compromised judiciaries, these laws have a particularly
• Governments have abused blasphemy laws to silence the political opposition, government critics, and other dissidents.
• Individuals have fabricated charges of blasphemy against others in their communities to settle petty disputes.
• Religious extremists have exploited blasphemy laws to justify attacks on religious minorities, thereby fostering an environment of intolerance where
discrimination is effectively condoned by the state.
• Religious institutions, often with official or unofficial government backing, have used blasphemy laws to impose the state-sanctioned interpretations of
religious doctrine on members of minority sects that are deemed deviant or heretical.
• The selective application of blasphemy laws gives rise to discrimination based on religion and belief, as religious minorities and heterodox sects are
often targeted disproportionately.
• In many cases, alleged blasphemers have been arbitrarily arrested based on false or unsubstantiated accusations of blasphemy, and reports of unfair
trials, lax legal procedures, and prolonged periods of pretrial or administrative detention on blasphemy charges are plentiful.
• Individuals accused of blasphemy have endured torture and ill-treatment in custody.
• Blasphemy suspects, including those who have been acquitted, have experienced breaches of their right to security of the person in the form of death
threats, mob beatings, and other violence by nonstate actors.
The report then follows up with a look at the application of blasphemy laws in the 7 countries they chose to investigate.
Blasphemy laws are anachronistic, they give religious people of a dominant sect a free pass, enable the persecution of non-believers or adherents of different beliefs, and restrict the rights of non-adherents to freedom of expression.Criticism or mocking of, or non-compliance with a dominant religion, does not impede on the rights of the practitioners of said religion to practice their faith.Noone has a right to not be offended.And any given cult or sect should not be allowed to determine, or write into law, what constitutes “blasphemy” in the case of their particular brand of superstition.
The authors point out :
They also vary considerably in the punishments they prescribe, since unlike other crimes, the victims of and damage caused by blasphemy are uncertain or intangible; acts covered by blasphemy laws can be interpreted as relatively mild offenses against individual feelings, offenses against the beliefs of an entire community, or grave attacks on a deity. These weaknesses leave blasphemy laws open to selective, arbitrary, or discriminatory enforcement, which worsens existing problems in countries with shaky institutions and mars the human rights credentials of otherwise well-functioning democracies.
Blasphemy is the one truly victimless crime.We have to realise one important disctinction here, however:
There is an important distinction in international law between blasphemy— meaning critical, insulting, or offensive expression against religious doctrines, figures, and deities—and incitement—meaning expression that explicitly encourages and calls for hostility and violence. Of the two, only the latter appears to fit the limited circumstances in which restrictions on freedom of expression are considered acceptable.
Religious fundamentalists, and especially those with tax exemptions and political influence to lose, will tend to confuse the two.