Freedom to Blaspheme?

A newly released study by Freedom House, which argues that blasphemy laws fundamentally violate the right to freedom of expression, coincides with a growing debate in recent years over these types of laws.

For example, the United Kingdom abolished its blasphemy law, which was specific to Christianity, in 2008. Meanwhile, in Ireland, a law punishing blasphemy with a fine of up to €25,000 took effect earlier this year amid protests. The Irish law was mean to implement Article 40 of Ireland’s Constitution, which provides that ‘[t]he publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law’. Protests against the law were so widespread, however, that the Irish government plans to hold a referendum on the provision later this year.

 A similar debate raged over an anti-blasphemy law in the Netherlands in 2008, when the Dutch legislature announced plans to repeal its blasphemy law. The government backtracked in May 2009, leaving Article 147, which criminalizes religious insults, as part of the Dutch Penal Code.  And, in Pakistan, where blasphemy can be punished by death, the government announced after a series of protests earlier this year that it would consider implementing changes to the law that would prevent its abuse. 

 Proponents often position blasphemy laws as a way to fight hate speech. Others, however, argue that criminalizing blasphemy instead typically work to promote the majority faith. The Freedom House report gave as examples blasphemy laws from Greece, which it says ‘are used only to prosecute perceived blasphemy against the Orthodox Church’, and Indonesia, where it says that such laws ‘have been used mostly to target blasphemy against Islam’.

 At the international level, the UN has introduced and periodically, and controversially, passed non-binding resolutions on the ‘combating the defamation of religions’ since 1999.

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1 Response to “Freedom to Blaspheme?”


  1. 1 dajjal November 10, 2010 at 1:38 am

    General Assembly resolutions do not have force of law. International human rights covenants do. The OIC is moving on a parallel track, below the radar, to insert the provisions of the resolution into ICERD, giving them the force of law.

    At the end of this month, the HRC’s ad hoc. cmte will meet to work on the protocol which will effectively destroy our first amendment.


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