I n 2007, George Kalman was notified that his chosen corporate name, “I Choose Hell Productions, LLC,” violated a local blasphemy law. The law stated that a business name “may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name.” Kalman didn’t live in Syria, Saudi Arabia or Iran.
George Kalman lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Downingtown.
Blasphemy laws are not a vestige of a bygone era. Blasphemy laws are appearing with increased frequency all over the globe today. The Pennsylvania law in this case was penned as recently as 1977 and was not overturned until 2010 for violation of the First Amendment.
I am diametrically opposed to any legislation that would seek to curtail our most important right, whether at home or abroad.
I believe all people should have the right to have their voices heard, but that also means that all people must have a right to voice a contrary opinion. Free speech means nothing if people are not free to say things that may offend us, and I think we should honor this principle around the world.
So, let me offer some reasons why you should support blasphemy.
First of all, there is no clear line between religious dissent and blasphemy.
A Christian who denies that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet blasphemes Islam by her very existence. A Jew denies the divinity of Jesus, and hence blasphemes against Christianity. Every single one of you reading this post is a blasphemer or a heretic to someone’s religion. The freedom of religion depends on the freedom to disagree with other religions. Blasphemy laws disallow that freedom in countless cases around the globe.
In Ireland, the constitution requires a blasphemy law to be on the books and in 2009 a law was passed stating that: “A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding 25,000 euro.”
In 2013, Russia passed a controversial blasphemy law to accompany its new anti-LGBT legislation. The law makes it a federal crime to perpetrate “public actions … clearly defying the society and committed with express purpose of insulting religious beliefs.”
Just last month, Muhammed Asghar, a 69-year-old mentally ill British man was sentenced to death in Pakistan for writing letters claiming to be a prophet.
The fight against blasphemy laws even transcends national boundaries. Almost every year since 1999, the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation has put a resolution “combating defamation of religions” before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The resolution urges states to provide religions “protection from contempt” and to consider criticism of religion comparable to a racial hate crime. Fortunately, 40 human rights groups petitioned against the motion because they saw through it.
If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard about it on ABC, MSNBC, Fox News, CNN or any other major news network, it’s because they didn’t cover it.
All of the examples I’ve given so far have involved legal consequences just for the blasphemer, but the existence of such laws also has a much wider impact on social issues.
Not all religious people are opposed to contraception, LGBT equality, gender equality, stem cell research, assisted suicide or the teaching of science in schools. But the driving force behind the opposition to each is overwhelmingly religious ideologies. If secularists, and perhaps more importantly liberal believers, are not allowed to voice contrary opinions because of deference to religious beliefs, then we will never escape the gravity well of those ideas.
Michael Nugent, chairperson of Atheist Ireland, said it best: “We are in danger of conceding the step between the state respecting somebody’s right to believe what they want and the state automatically respecting the content of the belief itself — and insisting by law that citizens do so also.”
Blasphemy is a victimless crime, and even if by some off chance God is real, I don’t think she would need her followers to step in and defend her at the expense of free speech.
Collin Boots is a master’s student from Redwood Falls, Minn., studying robotics. Email him at email@example.com or follow him @LotofTinyRobots.