Sunday, February 1, 2015

“End Blasphemy Laws campaign launched by international Coalition”

In the wake of the murders at Charlie Hebdo magazine, there has been a european movement to put an end to blasphemy laws across the globe. The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) as well as the European Humanist Federation (EHF) represent over two hundred humanist and secular organizations around the world. Their stance is that blasphemy laws restrict the freedom of the press, and the freedom of expression. Their movement is open to all advocates of freedom of expression, with a large base in the Atheist Irish. 

If you recall, Charlie Hebdo Magazine is a french satirical magazine, which was the subject of a murderous rampage where two islamist gunmen forced their way into the magazine’s Paris headquarters and gunned down twelve members of the magazine’s staff. The movement comes to the defense of the magazines generally satirical nature, and more specifically, their satirical content regarding religion. 

Sonja Eggerickx, president of IHEU, said that “in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings there have been renewed calls to abolish blasphemy and related laws in almost every country where they still exist. Our organisations have worked for many years to protect this important right: to question, criticise, and yes, even ridicule, religion. The idea that it is wrong to satirise religion lends false legitimacy to those who murder in the name of being offended. The idea that it is taboo to question or to criticise religious authorities is one reason why sexual abuse in the Catholic Church persisted so long.”

In addition Pierre Galand, EHF president, said “Our campaign does not target laws against incitement to hatred, which are legitimate. What we are concerned about is laws which restrict freedom of expression about religion. As a first step, we want to see the remaining laws against blasphemy and religious insult in Europe repealed.”

While this movement is centered around the blasphemy laws in Europe, it is inevitably an issue which will migrate to the political realm of the United States. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” This clause guarantees the civil liberties of free speech and a division between church and state, as well as extends free exercise of religion to citizens. This is the concept which i find a contention with. The crucial aspect to be investigated here is that protection is extended to the people, not the religion. No religion is protected by the constitution. Ideas are not protected under the constitution, the people who embody those ideas are. 

While federally, blasphemy laws are unconstitutional, there are many states which still have blasphemy laws on the books. While many of these laws were enacted centuries ago, they still hold as viable laws. The general tone behind the laws is that any spoken or written blasphemous act against God shall be punishable by a fine and some amount of jail time. These laws directly conflict with the free exercise clause of the first amendment. I believe that there should be a complete abolishment of blasphemy laws in the United States across all state level constitutions. These laws inhibit a citizens ability to freely criticize and ridicule a particular religion, which is a right protected by the first amendment. I believe that the revival of this movement across Europe should call into question our own state laws, and begin the process of the repealing of such laws. Given the concepts of free exercise and freedom of expression, why is this movement important? 

The full articles consulted can be seen through the links below.

1 comment:

Alex L. said...

Will, I agree this movement is important not only in Europe but in the United States as well. I am glad to see a rejuvenated effort in Europe to defend people’s ability to write or satirize whatever they please no matter how controversial. As you point out there are still blasphemy laws on the books here in the United States. I believe these laws are outdated and limit one’s ability of free speech. I do not see how the publication of a satirical cartoon or article would limit another’s ability to practice their religion and think it is crucial to defend the publishers in their endeavors. What I think would be a travesty domestically or elsewhere is if people are afraid to speak their mind or publish anything controversial. While it may not be outwardly stated there is no doubt that the recent events in Paris have made publishers think twice before publishing content, and unfortunately that is exactly what these two gunmen would have wanted.