Unbelievably, in this second decade of the 21st century, there are still countries that have a death penalty for blasphemy.
And in one of those countries, at least, American and British soldiers are fighting, and dying, to defend the option of a government to enforce that law.
I am referring to Afghanistan – specifically the clause in its Penal code, which states as follows:
Sharia permits the authorities to treat blasphemy as a capital crime. The authorities can punish blasphemy with death if the blasphemy is committed by a male of sound mind over age 18 or by a female of sound mind over age 16. Anyone accused of blasphemy has three days to recant. If an accused does not recant, death by hanging may follow.“(1)
Afghanistan is not unique: Saudi Arabia has a similar law.
But, most countries satisfy themselves with less drastic forms of punishment such as imprisonment and/or fines. Surprisingly, even some European countries still have anti-blasphemy laws, but these are rarely enforced.
Only as recently as March 2008, was the blasphemy law repealed in the UK; the last successful prosecution for blasphemy was in 1977 – only 35 years ago! Interestingly, the law only applied to Christianity.(2) The last execution for blasphemy actually took place in Scotland in 1697 with the hanging of the unfortunately named Mr Thomas Aikenhead. He must have had a real aching head after that experience. (sorry!)
In America, it’s a whole different ball game, (to use the local vernacular). Under the First and Fourteenth amendments to the constitution – pertaining to free expression – it is impossible to bring a Federal prosecution on the charge of blasphemy, as part of the legally defined separation of “church” and state. However, the situation regarding individual states is not so clear. (3)
And, I discovered much to my surprise and consternation, that there are laws protecting religion here in Israel:
In Israel, blasphemy is covered by Articles 170 and 173 of the penal code:
- Insult to religion
- 170. If a person destroys, damages or desecrates a place of worship or any object which is held sacred by a group of persons, with the intention of reviling their religion, or in the knowledge that they are liable to deem that act an insult to their religion, then the one is liable to three years imprisonment.
- Injury to religious sentiment
- 173. If a person does any of the following, then the one is liable to one year imprisonment:
- (1) One publishes a publication that is liable to crudely offend the religious faith or sentiment of others;
- (2) One voices in a public place and in the hearing of another person any word or sound that is liable to crudely offend the religious faith or sentiment of others.
The law is traced back to the British High Commission “The Abuse and Vilification (religious invective) Order No. 43 of 1929”, enacted in efforts to suppress the 1929 Palestine riots. The order contained the language: “Any person who utters a word or sound in public or within earshot of any other person that may be or is intended to offend his religious sensitivities or faith can expect to be found guilty and eligible for a one-year jail sentence.” (4)
Article 170 says that the reviling or insulting of the religion is a separate crime from the specific act of destruction or vandalism, since it refers to intent.
Article 173 presumably includes, for example, “blowing a Raspberry” as a sign of comment or disagreement.
So – does any of this really matter?
Since few countries actually punish people for this “crime”, and even fewer execute convicted blasphemers, why should anyone be concerned?
To me, the concern should be obvious. All of the examples listed above, and, indeed, all laws relating to blasphemy, place religion in a different category from any, and every, other element of the fabric of society.
Discussion, debate and disagreement can be heated and/or offensive about any subject, other than religion and religious belief.
Expressing oneself passionately about anything else does not lead to imprisonment, or the threat of it. Demonstrations, and other political acts, are covered by different laws related to public order. So, again, why religion?
There can be only one logical reason.
Since religion, and the various form of God, were invented by man, those charged with the responsibility to nurture, protect and maintain it, understood from the beginning that fear was the greatest form of power enforcement.
History has proved them right.
Nothing will concentrate a man’s (or woman’s) mind more than the threat of being burned alive at the stake, or stoned to death.
But, one must acknowledge that religion has moved with the times and adjusted to the 21st century. Realising that burning and stoning doesn’t play well on YouTube, and even hanging is seen by some as a bit gruesome, more and more regimes and governments have settled for imprisonment.
At least there, the transgressors can rot away out of the public eye!
As for me – I’m going to have a quick flip through some of my previous articles to check that I am not in contravention of the local laws. I hope that implied “Raspberries” don’t count.
And at least I can be thankful that I’m in Israel – not Afghanistan!
Andyboy – Telling it as it is!
Blasphemy set to music!
- Death to blasphemers: Kuwait could execute offenders of Prophet (rt.com)
- Pakistan: Life in Prison for Blasphemy (volokh.com)
- Masterbating Nuns | Banned Blasphemy Film To Be Released (theageofblasphemy.wordpress.com)