A Year of Blasphemy

The incendiary film ""The Innocence of Muslims" was merely an unconvincing pretext for a terrorist attack, not the true cause of the attack. Yet the film has spurred new discussions of American free speech exceptionalism, and led some to question whether we should hew to the First Amendment in the face of worldwide demands for an international ban on blasphemy.

Eric Posner wrote in Slate that we ought to consider that other societies believe that "free speech must yield to other values and the need for order." Anthea Butler, a professor at Penn, defended calls for the arrest of the man who made the film, suggesting that it had "inflamed" people across the globe, putting Americans at risk. Garrett Epps wrote that blasphemy is not the "essence of free speech" and that other nations understand freedom differently than we do. Professor Peter Spiro reacted to the film by suggesting that "international norms" about hate speech should prevail over our relatively absolutist free speech values.

We should address such views, not ignore them. But as we consider them — as we evaluate whether anti-blasphemy laws will ever be consistent with the modern American values embodied in our First Amendment precedents — we should examine what the competing values truly are. What are the "other values" which other societies believe outweigh free speech? What sorts of things "inflame" people in those societies? If other societies understand free expression differently than we do, how do they understand it? What "international norms" are emerging on blasphemy?

I decided to try to answer those questions by looking at how the nations of the world have treated blasphemy during one year: October 2011 through September 2012. In other words, I decided to examine how one year reflected the competing values concerning free speech and blasphemy.

A word about methodology

I gathered the following information by using Google to search web sites and news sources week by week for that year. Though "mainstream" journalists are hardly above question, I preferred reports from media sources to unconfirmed reports on blogs and special-interest web sites. I generally avoided sites that I would characterize as deliberately and explicitly anti-Muslim. Moreover, though accusations of blasphemy against Islam predominated, I neither sought them out or evaluated; I generally looked through the first five pages of articles and web sites that came up during each week.

I confined my search to posts and articles about accusations of blasphemy. Therefore this list does not cover the the related concept of apostasy, which can lead to your execution (and the imprisonment of even the lawyers defending you) under the competing values of some countries that punish blasphemy. I also didn't pick up stories about people being punished for "sorcery" or "witchcraft" — usually by decapitation — even though I see that as part of the culture that demands anti-blasphemy laws. Finally, I didn't address cases involving the far broader category of "hate speech" — I eschewed prosecutions for speech disrespecting groups in favor of prosecutions for speech disrespecting religions and religious figures.

Without further ado, I give you a year in blasphemy.

October 2011:

In the United States, "Underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty on the second day of his trial for attempting to blow up a plane carrying 300 people. He explained that if the United States continues "to persist and promote the blasphemy of Muhammad and the prophets," it risks "a great calamity … through the hands of the mujahedeen soon."

In Pakistan, a young Christian woman charged with blasphemy after a dispute with Muslim women in her village was beaten in prison by her guard.

Also in Pakistan, a man sentenced to a month in prison for blaspheming the family of Mohammed found his sentence increased to three years by an appellate court.

In Egypt, a man was sentenced to three years at hard labor for mocking Islam on Facebook.

November 2011:

In France, the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was firebombed after the magazine announced an issue lampooning Mohammed. The magazine's web site was hacked, with rhetoric in Turkish added: "You keep abusing Islam's almighty Prophet with disgusting and disgraceful cartoons using excuses of freedom of speech. Be God's curse upon you!"

In Pakistan, an advocate for reform of blasphemy laws was appointed as ambassador to the United States. If she moves to the United States, she might not have to live in hiding:

Rehman, 50, lives under protection after receiving numerous death threats over unsuccessful legislation she introduced in parliament to reform the country's widely abused blasphemy laws, which have been used to prosecute Christians and other religious minorities for allegedly denigrating Islam. Earlier this year, two other politicians from the Pakistan Peoples Party were gunned down by extremists over the same issue. Following those killings, the debate in Pakistan over blasphemy was snuffed out.

Critics of the appointment asserted that appointing someone opposed to blasphemy laws represented yielding to the United States and the "Jewish lobby."

Also in Pakistan, government authorities released a list of words that telecommunications companies must ban in text messages, including "condom," "flatulence," "monkey crotch" and "Jesus Christ." With respect to the name of Jesus Christ, the government indicated that speech could be restricted "in the interest and glory of Islam."

December 2011:

In France, riot police responded when angry Catholic activists targeted a theater featuring a play that they labeled as blasphemous. The theater — and others showing similar plays — experienced death threats, attacks on their security system, eggs thrown at theatergoers, stinkbombs, and protestors rushing the stage.

In Pakistan, three Ahmedis — members of a minority religious sect — were arrested and charged with various forms of blasphemy. A father was accused of registering his son as a Muslim on a school form, the son was accused of making derogatory comments about Mohammed (which carries the death penalty), and a school headmaster was accused of snatching religious books from the hands of students cheating on a test and hurling the books into a pond.

Also in Pakistan, a 23-year-old Christian laborer was charged with blasphemy for desecrating the Quran based on accusations levied by his Muslim landlord, with whom the defendant had just had a dispute about rent. Another Pakistani Christian — who had previously been acquitted of blasphemy charges — was arrested in church at Christmas services for blasphemy. Previously his wife and son were kidnapped by Muslim village elders in an effort to extort him into converting to Islam.

In Turkey, a court cited "the right to respect for one's religious feelings" in upholding an indictment of a man for "ridiculing Muslim prayer rituals and the Islamic belief that the universe was created by God" in comments on a website.

In Saudi Arabia, an Australian man on a pilgrimage to Mecca was detained, accused of blaspheming the companions of Mohammed, and sentenced to a year in prison and 500 lashes. This sentence was later reduced to 75 lashes over a leather jacket.

January 2012:

In Poland, a court fined singer "Doda" the equivalent of $1,450 for "offending religious feelings" for saying that "she doubted the Bible 'because it’s hard to believe in something that was written by someone drunk on wine and smoking some herbs.'”

In England, in the wake of controversy over cartoons depicting Mohammed, the London School of Economics Student Union passed an anti-blasphemy law condemning and vowing to investigate "Islamaphobia."

Also in England, the film "Visions of Ecstasy", the only film to be banned in the United Kingdom on grounds of blasphemy, is finally given a rating 20 years after being submitted for one.

In India, sharia law courts indicted two priests — the Rev Chander Mani Khanna of the Church of North India and Fr. Jim Borst, a Roman Catholic missionary — for blasphemy because they baptized Muslims converting to Christianity.

Also in India, Muslim leaders called for Salman Rushdie to be denied entry into India to prevent him from attending a literary festival in light of his past blasphemy.

February 2012:

In Malaysia, Saudia journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained at the request of Saudi Arabia on blasphemy charges based on his tweeting imagined conversations with Mohammed. “I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.” Facebook pages demanding his execution had more fans than one asking for changes to be dropped. Saudi authorities reportedly investigated people who posted support for Kashgari online.

28-year-old Dildar Yousaf, a Christian, was arrested for blasphemy after he defended his 8-year-old nephew from a crowd of kids demanding that the nephew convert to Islam; his accusers claimed he defamed Mohammed during the confrontation.

March 2012:

In Kuwait, authorities arrested a man for blasphemy on accusations that he "slandered the Prophet Mohammad, his companions and his wife" on Twitter.

In Pakistan, a Christian woman who resisted family pressure to convert to Islam was charged with blasphemy based on accusations by Muslim neighbors.

Also in Pakistan, after street protests complaining of a lack of charges, authorities charged a man with sending blasphemous text messages to religious leaders.

In Bangladesh, a court ordered authorities to shut down multiple Facebook pages for blaspheming Islam, Mohammed, and the Quran.

April 2012:

In India, authorities arrested skeptic Sanal Edamaruku for blasphemy at the insistence of Catholic Church officials after he revealed how a "miraculous" weeping cross actually worked.

In Kuwait, Parliament voted to make blasphemy punishable by death after a man was accused of blaspheming Mohammed on Twitter.

In Egypt, a teen who posted cartoons of Mohammed on Facebook was sentenced to three years in prison.

In Pakistan, an 80-year-old man acquitted of blasphemy was shot dead by the complaining witness, who had accused him after an argument.

In Indonesia, authorities contemplating moving the trial of a Shiite accused of blasphemy, possibly because the blasphemy allegations were being used to incite crowds to attack Shia citizens.

In Tunisia, two young men were sentenced to seven years in prison "for transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order" after publishing caricatures of Mohammed.

May 2012:

In Pakistan, the government shut down access to Twitter after Twitter refused to remove tweets referring readers to a Facebook page containing images of Mohammed.

Also in Pakistan, UN officials reported that Pakistani judges are pressured to convict and sentence to death those accused of blasphemy, and lawyers are reluctant to represent the accused because of threats.

Also in Pakistan, a young Christian man got into an argument with some young Muslim man after a game of billiards. They accused him of blasphemy, and he was arrested.

In Tunisia, a broadcast executive was convicted of blasphemy — though spared prison — for airing the movie Persepolis, a story of the Iranian revolution that includes a depiction of God as an old man.

June 2012:

In Kuwait, the man who inspired the effort to make blasphemy punishable by death was sentenced to ten years in prison for mocking Mohamed, insulting Islam, and insulting the rulers of Saudi Arabia on Twitter.

In Pakistan, a mob was turned back with tear gas when it attacked a police station in an effort to seize and lynch a man accused of blasphemy.

Also in Pakistan, a Christian woman was acquitted after four years imprisonment; she had been accused of blasphemy (on which she was initially acquitted) and of defiling the Quran by touching it "without ablution." The woman and her husband had been accused of blasphemy after their children got into a dispute with the children of a Muslim neighbor.

In Iran, a Christian who operated a church in his home was released after a year in custody for blasphemy and threatening "state security."

In Greece, three men were arrested for blasphemy for acting in the play "Corpus Christi."

July 2012

In Pakistan, a homeless mentally ill man was dragged from police custody, beaten, and burned to death when he was accused of burning pages of the Quran.

Also in Pakistan, the country's first college of arts had its board dissolved by the government after it was accused of printing a blasphemous journal insulting Islam and promoting homosexuality.

August 2012:

In Pakistan, a Muslim cleric led a mob to surround a police station and pressure authorities to charge a Christian girl with blasphemy on accusations that she desecrated the Quran. Her defenders claim she is 11 and mentally disabled. The accuser's lawyer said that Muslims would "take matters into their own hands" if authorities did not convict the girl. Hundreds of Christians in the neighborhood fled their homes.

In Germany, in the wake of a satirical magazine printing a cover with an image of the Pope with a urine stain on his cassock (a reference to a leaking scandal), a bishop demanded blasphemy laws, saying those "who injure the souls of believers with scorn and derision must be put in their place and in some cases also punished.”

In Egypt, police arrested a Christian man for blasphemy for creating a Facebook page with images of Mohammed.

September 2012:

In Pakistan, police revealed that the clerical accuser of the 11-year-old-girl discussed above may have fabricated the evidence against her.

Also in Pakistan, a shopkeeper who failed to close his store for a protest against the "Innocence of Muslims" film was accused by protestors of blaspheming Mohammed and arrested.

In Moscow, a local theater shut down a production of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" after local prosecutors launched a blasphemy investigation at the request of offended Christians.

In Egypt, a man was arrested for blasphemy after a mob surrounding his house, accusing him of posting a clip from the "Innocence of Muslims" film. An Egyptian court affirmed the six-year blasphemy sentence of another man accused of posting pictures offensive to Muslims on Facebook and insulting President Morsi.

Finally, in Switzerland, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation renewed demands for worldwide blasphemy laws through the United Nations, calling for the West to "come out of hiding from behind the excuse of freedom of expression."

That Was The Year That Was

There you have it — a year of what Eric Posner might call "other values and the need for order," a year of what Anthea Butler might call incidents of people being "inflamed," a year of what Garrett Epps might say are different understandings of freedom and different views of the "essence" of free speech, a year of the competing "international norms" referred to by Professor Peter Spiro. These are the values to which we, as Americans, are invited to yield.

I think not.

As the Posners and Butlers and Eppses and Spiros of the nation have begun to speak in the wake of Benghazi, others have refuted them. Some have pointed out a truth illustrated by this year of blasphemy: anti-blasphemy laws are a tool for religious majorities to suppress religious minorities, and a mechanism for the more powerful to oppress the relatively powerless, and tend to be used in a lawless manner resembling modern witch hunts. That is the norm we are asked to embrace.

It is right and fit that any nation be prepared to examine its own values, and evaluate competing ones. But I feel no qualms whatsoever at rejecting the competing values embodied in that year of blasphemy. Instead, I will stand by the values embodied in the modern interpretation of the First Amendment. When others advocate that America ease protections for free expression to ease international relations or to protect feelings and sensibilities or to move towards some imagined international consensus or to achieve "progress," I will point to this year and ask: do you truly grasp what values you are promoting, and what values you are abandoning?

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. Daryl Herbert says

    Innocence of Muslims was not a pretext for the attack in Libya. It had nothing to do with the attack, not even as a pretext. The embassy attackers in Libya never told us what their motives supposedly were. There is zero evidence that the embassy attackers were motivated, or ever claimed to be motivated, by that movie.

  2. Daryl Herbert says

    Apart from that one quibble, this is a great post. The fact that blasphemy laws are often misused for advantage in private disputes, or to harass minorities, is a great reason to reject them (on top of lots of other good reasons).

  3. -Mona- says

    Just outstanding, Ken. I've been citing your work, lately in comments at Glenn Greenwald's Guardian blog.

  4. Michelle says

    As a Christian, I feel absolutely sickened by the incidents mentioned above where Christians used, or called for, anti-blasphemy laws to silence their opponents. If I can't imagine using such tactics to defend my own religion, I certainly don't want them used against me by those who want to force me to follow theirs.

  5. Matthew Cline says

    With respect to the name of Jesus Christ, the government indicated that speech could be restricted "in the interest and glory of Islam."

    While that's an example of theocratic suppression of free speech, I don't think it's an example of anti-blasphemy, just like prosecution of apostasy isn't an example of anti-blasphemy.

  6. ShelbyC says

    Well, I hope we never abandon our commitment to free speech, but if we do, I hope that people like Eric Posner, Anthea Butler, and Peter Spiro, who advocate that others be imprisoned for their beliefs, are the first ones who are rounded up and hauled off.

  7. says

    You aren't a true champion of the First Amendment until you've used "condom," "flatulence," "monkey crotch" and "Jesus Christ" in the same sentence.

  8. Grifter says

    I feel like this post should be set to music, like Sarah McLaughlin dog videos or the ones with the starving kids…because you've just shown us some of the awful in the world.

    But then, I think, we need to see it.

  9. James Pollock says

    I confess to only skimming, but I think the methodology might be flawed. I didn't see any references to the Church of Scientology, and they're kind of known for using the courts to go after skeptics (or would these fall outside the scope, as the skeptics they target tend to be apostate?)

  10. says

    I have a question for those advocating blasphemy laws in the USA; given the lack of an established religion, how do you handle conflicts between religions? In particular, how do you handle the case where recognised religion 1 says something is core doctrine and unassailable, while recognised religion 2 says that the same thing is blasphemous? Note that I'm assuming that the laws will put a mechanism in place to distinguish "real" (hereby called recognised) religions from "fake" religions set up to take advantage of the blasphemy law, which may not pass first amendment scrutiny in its own right, as it gets dangerously close to an establishment clause.

    For example, imagine one recognised religion saying that a named historic human was the Son of God, and requiring its members to proselytise such a belief. Imagine another recognised religion saying that there is only one god, and that to identify a historic human as kin to god is blasphemous. How do you resolve the fact that one religion requires its members to blaspheme in the view of another religion?

    Islamic states have a solution – in the event of a conflict, Islam determines whether something is blasphemous. Christian states similarly use Christianity as the conflict resolver, and Israel can state that Judaism is the arbiter of blasphemy in a conflict. But for a secular-by-constitution state like the USA, this option isn't available – how can the state recognise one religion as somehow "better" than another when deciding whether something is blasphemy?

  11. says

    @James Pollock: I think the scientologists generally prefer to abuse copyright law to keep their more implausible beliefs quiet, since copyright law is already a convenient, sweeping, and draconian tool for chilling free speech in the US.

    Mind you the scientologists don't really claim to be offended as such. They see it more as a tort when people expose their revenue stream to the damaging light of rational criticism. Or at least, they are more honest about that being the problem than some Catholics or Muslims are.

  12. Matthew Cline says

    So far as I know, Scientology doctrine contains no concept of "blasphemy", so that isn't the sort of accusation they'd make (though I'm sure that if a blasphemy law could be used to silence critics they'd be happy to make something up).

  13. says

    This is half of why I'm an atheist. Even if I viscerally believed in a higher power, it takes about 1.5 words of dogmatic religious blather, such as the sort of doth-protest-too-much anti-blasphemy crap chronicled here, to induce eye-rolling and the irresistible desire for a nap.

  14. the other rob says

    Excellently done, Ken.

    Sometimes, it's all too easy to take American exceptionalism for granted and fall into the trap of feeling that the USA isn't all that exceptional. A review like this is a potent reminder that it is – in a very good way.

  15. machintelligence says

    @ Simon Farnsworth
    This is exactly the reason that a global blasphemy law as advocated in the UN will never work.

  16. says

    used in a lawless manner resembling modern witch hunts.

    This is what struck me about the list: that if you don't like someone, you can basically destroy their life by saying they defamed Muhammed or burned a Quran or had a smart look on their face during prayers.

  17. C. S. P. Schofield says

    Y'know, we've been trying this "we have to respect their culture and perspective" business on the Muslims for several decades now, and it doesn't seem to mollify them in the least. How about we go back to the older "We're the civilized people here, and when we catch people acting like chimps we thump them to make them stop" model? Seems to me it kept a lid on things for most of Victoria's reign…..

  18. Jeremy Reffin says

    Thank you for the article. On the narrow point of blasphemy I am in complete agreement. I shall not be moving to Pakistan any time soon. However, you also ask "What are the "other values" which other societies believe outweigh free speech?" and here many countries point to other considerations than religious blasphemy. As you know, most Western democracies have some form of significant legislative restrictions on free speech. For example, Holocaust denial is illegal in sixteen European countries, and in the UK you can be thrown in jail for sending a "grossly offensive" tweet. I happen not to be a fan of either of these free speech restrictions but I wouldn't want anyone to come away with the impression that citing a few "mad mullah" stories wins the broader battle for free speech being waged in the West today.

  19. TimS says


    How long did it take Christianity to understand the idea of tolerance? Even if we start the clock late and begin at Luther's 95 Thesis, it still took over a century. Perhaps we could cut others similar slack? Especially since one reason their cultures didn't progress was that the Victorians (or earlier agents, like slave-catchers) were busy taking their local resources for the benefit of far away countries.

  20. mommadona says

    Well, GEE ~ how BIG of you.

    I want freedom FROM religion ~ ORGANIZED religion ~ MALE DOMINATED, ORGANIZED religion ~ it's a woman thing, m'k?

  21. C. S. P. Schofield says


    Christianity only learned tolerance after, repeatedly, having its collective nose rubbed in the results of intolerance … and I wouldn't count on the lesson sticking if the consequences somehow vanished. I don't expect Islam to learn tolerance if there are no negative consequences for intolerance.

    I concede that not all the values and customs of Islamic society are clear-cut cases of 'they're wrong'; but I don't think that anything excuses us turning a blind eye to those that are. 'Honor' killings are wrong. Period. I'm sorry for all my knee-jerk Liberal in-laws who would be appalled at that statement, but if you don't agree with it you are either a fool or a swine. Stoning rape victims for 'adultery' is vile. People who do it should be stopped, by military force if necessary, from exporting the vileness from their home countries.

    There is an old story, from the days of the Raj in India, of an English general who was rebuked by a Hindu for interfering in the Hindu custom of suttee. The General replied "In England we have a custom of hanging people who murder widows. So, you follow your custom, and we will follow ours."

    We have, or should have, a custom of jailing men who beat women, disfigure women, or murder women, no matter how traditional their reasons. We should apply it. We once had a custom of making war on those who would attack our country or our interests, or of forcing their governments to make war on them through gunboat diplomacy. We should keep our eye on the ball, attack where our interests are involved, and withdraw when they are not. If nothing else it would appear a great deal more rational, which should be a relief to the rest of the world.

    I am not prepared to convert Islam with the sword, as was tried in the Crusades. I would, however, back the idea of making Islam so wary of the wrath of the West that they carefully keep their nutjobs at home.

  22. Bleddyn says

    Sorry TimS, but the idea that we should somehow be understanding of and okay with innocent people being thrown in jail, having their lives ruined, and being killed because hey, 400 years ago someone else did it, is frankly repugnant. This is about the US and saying that in this country you are free to believe as you wish and to speak your opinions without governmental reprisal, and we will not be changing this state of affairs no matter how butthurt anyone else in the world gets over it.

  23. eddie says

    "Stoning rape victims for 'adultery' is vile. People who do it should be stopped, by military force if necessary, from exporting the vileness from their home countries."

    You last comma should have been a period.

  24. C. S. P. Schofield says


    I would certainly be willing to entertain the notion of subjugating countries such as Iran if I thought there was anybody available who would do the "Colonial Paternalism" schtick as well as the British did in the 19th Century. But I honestly don't see any likely candidates. `

  25. bw1 says

    Epps says other nations understand freedom differently than we do. I would ask him what is the net flow of immigrants between the USA and those nations, and, if their understanding of freedom is so much better, why isn't that flow in the other direction.

    The world is voting with their feet for our way.

  26. En Passant says

    TimS wrote Oct 15, 2012 @6:53 am:

    How long did it take Christianity to understand the idea of tolerance? Even if we start the clock late and begin at Luther's 95 Thesis, it still took over a century. Perhaps we could cut others similar slack? Especially since one reason their cultures didn't progress was that the Victorians (or earlier agents, like slave-catchers) were busy taking their local resources for the benefit of far away countries.

    Perhaps you are unaware of Indian history prior to the 18th or 19th century. From the 16th century, Islam, in its political embodiment the Mughals, took increasingly strong thumpings for intolerance of other religions. Islam's primary adversaries were Hindus and Sikhs, both of which were models of tolerance for the time.

    So Islam has had several times the "slack" Christianity had in the West.

  27. Mikhael McElroy says

    Ken, I don't believe I've commented on any of your blog posts before, but as a student currently graduating from high school in the land down under, I've been reading Popehat since your first post on the Oatmeal saga with that buffoon Carreon, and I'd just like to thank you for posts like this, which, following the general trend of your submissions force us to confront the values which underpin our society and our values and the infusion of moral which anger you at Popehat. Indeed, it is this blog, reading stemming from it (particularly Aaron's chronicle of awful justice abuse by Kimberlin), and Geoffrey Robertson which have inspired me for the most part to become involved in the legal profession in the hope that I can do some good for this world and mitigate the terrible injustices inspired by censorious asshats (and in this case organisations that propogate censorious asshattery) that you chronicle throughout this blog. Please continue posting, as nothing makes me driven more than the thought of going some way to questioning and rectifying the values and the people that further censorship and injustice around the world.

  28. Josh C says

    One tiny quibble: the "Catholic officials" in the Sanal Edamaruk thing were all local. IIRC, the larger church came down hard on them, and explained that anti-scientific views were orthogonal to the church's teachings.

    Otherwise, great post.

  29. ULTRAGOTHA says

    TimS, in the early days of the Califiate, way more than 400 years ago, Islam was extraordinarily tolerant. Much more so than Christianity at the time. It's not that those Muslims who promote blasphemy laws need more time. It's that they need a bit more confidence in Allah being a big enough boy to tolerate some dissent. Dissent that existed rather robustly in the early days of the Califiate.

  30. Jeremy says

    I really want to add something worthwhile to this post. However, I don't have the time to come up with something worthy. I would just like to emphasize that these anti-blasphemy laws are no different than anti-holocaust-denial laws, or any other law in a democratic/developed nation that prevents one form of speech in preference for another.

  31. C. S. P. Schofield says


    I really must differ with you. What the Muslims who promote intolerance need is a lively awareness of just how ugly life can get unless you agree that we all need to get along. Letting the Shiite and the Sunni fight their version of the Thirty Years War might work, but I'm inclined to believe that so would playing Teddy Roosevelt every time a bunch of their violent thugs harmed Americans or American property.

    I'm prepared to tolerate a great deal in my neighbors, provided that it stays on their side of the property line (so to say).

    Of course if your daughter objects to the marriage you arranged for her with a violent pig thirty years her senior, and comes knocking on my door looking for asylum, I'm not likely to turn her away. And if you want to make Jihad over that, I think you will find fighting that part of the West that doesn't draw a Professor's salary a nasty proposition.

  32. perlhaqr says

    From the second March 2012 story: [Bahawalnagar Superintendent of Police Investigation Irfan] Ullah told Compass by phone. “The other witness is standing by his claim, and she has produced nothing so far which can prove her innocence.”

    I'd just like to throw out a cheer for "innocent until proven guilty" here, which is probably something else a number of other places would like to see us do away with, in addition to our first amendment.

  33. Davey says

    Full disclosure: I'm a pretty conservative Christian. [1]

    I'm getting very worried about the rise in power of religious zealots of all kinds. It seems like religious policy is being dictated by people whose only qualification is being butt-hurt by something that somebody else did or said. "This pisses me off, so you'd better ban it!"

    Governments that try to accommodate a vocal minority don't realize that they're dealing with an insatiable group. Once the door is open, it will be very hard to refuse additional demands.

    I know this will cause howls of protest, but…
    I believe that radical Islam has created a Great Endarkenment in the Moslem world. Where did its leadership in learning, science and mathematics go? I'm afraid that the same future awaits the US, if we aren't very careful.

    Note [1]: My work is very geology-intensive. The geologic time scale works for me. It is internally consistent and predictive. I also believe that Genesis Chapter 1 is a factual record of creation. Can I reconcile these two statements? No. It's a mystery that I'll have to live with, but I'm certain that the truth is not either-or. The truth is probably both-and. It's on my list of things to ask the Almighty when I meet Him.

  34. Joe Pullen says

    It's that they need a bit more confidence in Allah being a big enough boy to tolerate some dissent

    I've always thought that those who howl the loudest over insults to their religion or beliefs are those with the absolute least true confidence in whatever deity they pay homage to.

  35. Richard says

    I'm surprised Pussy Riot didn't make this list.
    Technically, they were convicted of "premeditated hooliganism performed by an organized group of people motivated by religious hatred or hostility."

    However, I would call the trial a blasphemy charge.

  36. Callie Q says

    A previous commented said that banning mention of Jesus Christ was NOT an example of anti blasphemy laws. He is wrong. To state that Jesus Christ is Lord and the Son of God is to insult mohammed because while they recognize Jesus it is only as a lesser prophet. To say he IS above mohammed is to commit blasphemy

  37. says

    Once more, I note that the idea of "religious tolerance" in the sense of banning any speech that offends someone's religion (not in the correct sense of not shooting, jailing, etc., people because they don't worship the right god) is not compatible with freedom of religion of any sort, because any statement of faith is an implicit "You are WRONG!" to anyone who believes in any other faith, or in no faith. I've gone into this at tedious length elsewhere on the site, for those looking for the usual explanations, examples, caveats, and details. Thus, any call for "blasphemy laws" ultimately means that the government will enforce one faith as "correct", by punishing all those who hold alternate faiths/no faith. It cannot be avoided. Jesus can't be the Messiah and NOT be the Messiah; no matter which you pick, you're "blaspheming" those who pick the other. There's no polite, inoffensive, way to say, "Oh, by the way, just to mention it, casually, in passing, your faith, that you believe in absolutely, is wrong, and mine is right. Don't take it personally that I've just called you an idiot, and your priests and theologians liars. I mean no offense."

  38. madnessofjack says

    " I will stand by the values embodied in the modern interpretation of the First Amendment."……..priceless.

  39. C. S. P. Schofield says


    There is a reason, after all, that gently born hostesses used to ban all discussion of Politics or Religion at the dinner table…..

  40. Personanongrata says

    The shallow minded Homo troglodytes clamoring for the censorship of human expression worship at the house of political correctness run amok.

    What the Homo troglodyte censors are calling for is humans to be seen not heard least we disturb our masters quaint and tranquil exisitence with our trifling expressions of humanity.

    A censor is an expert in cutting remarks. A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to. ~ Laurence J. Peter

  41. McSorley says

    Nothing like a academic to try and convince us we should be trying to please all of the people all of the time despite what common sense and history tells us. Before you know it we will be burying the smithsonian buildings because they contain items that may offend in the interest of civility mainly because of the ignorant people holding us hostage with uncivilized behavior.

  42. ElSuerte says

    Yet another reminder to stay the fuck out of Pakistan and the dar al Islam in general. Too bad this will keep me from visiting a lot of places I've wanted to go to.

    I gotta say, I'm really disappointed to see Christians availing themselves of blasphemy laws. Even if there were only a couple.

    I'm shocked that the UK only got rid of their blasphemy law in 2008! (Though they still have blasphemy law in all but name)

    One quibble, the Dec 2011 entry on French Catholic fundamentalists doesn't belong because the government wasn't enforcing blasphemy law, and was giving extensive protection to the blashpemers)

  43. LoraL says

    Garrett Epps was correct when he said that other nations understand freedom differently than we do: they define freedom as precisely the freedom to think and say what the state allows to be thought and said. Period. If we give up freedom of speech in favor of prosecuting heresy, freedom of (and from) religion goes immediately with it (amen, @Lizard!), and then all our freedoms as individuals are gone. ALL our freedoms, including one I hold very dear, that freedom to direct my life. In some parts of the world, my status as a self-directing entity is blasphemous because I am female. That eventuality, should the anti-blasphemy crowd emerge victorious, scares me to my core.

  44. C. S. P. Schofield says

    "Garrett Epps was correct when he said that other nations understand freedom differently than we do"

    Wouldn't it be more honest to assert that other nations do not, for the most part, understand freedom at all.

    Not that there is a hell of a lot of evidence that we do either, at least among the political class.

  45. delurking says

    Excellent. I propose we now, in the spirit of Socratic inquiry, in order to define what blasphemy is for purposes of making international law banning it, start asking some questions:

    Is it blasphemous (or "offensive to the religious") to
    1a. Proclaim that Jesus Christ is the son of God?
    1b. Proclaim that Jesus Christ is not the son of God?
    2a. Proclaim that the Pope can be infallible?
    2b. Proclaim that the Pope cannot be infallible?
    3a. Proclaim that the twelfth imam has been born?
    3b. Proclaim that the twelfth imam has not been born?

    Seriously, has anyone who advocates some restriction on blasphemy for the US put more than 30 seconds of thought into it?

  46. Myk says

    I'd suggest that blasphemy in the USA appears (to those of us outside it) to apply to those who criticise and condemn corporate greed, government secrecy and "War on [insert current boogeyman]"™.

  47. Mercury says

    Exercise for the class:

    Can you tease out a general trend that runs through the above reports of alleged blasphemy?

    What might this imply about the true nature of the problem under consideration?

  48. ella says

    @ C. S. P. Schofield
    Sorry, but Crusades had nothing to do with conversion of Muslims, but everything to do with regaining control of the lands conquered by Muslims.
    And even then probably there would be no Crusades, however, in 1078 Turkish Seljuk dislodged Abbasid caliphate from Jerusalem and refused to give free passage to Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem. (Abbasids did gave free passage to pilgrims).
    And that free passage to Jerusalem was a very important thing for the whole Christendom.
    How important?
    More important than 9/11 for USA.
    “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” (G. Orwell)

  49. says

    Garrett Epps wrote that blasphemy is not the "essence of free speech…."

    What's more disturbing is that this is nothing new. The idea of an action being the "essence" of a right is an old concept:

    "Even so, they are not of the very essence of a scheme of ordered liberty." Palko v. Connecticut, 203 U.S. 319, 325 (1937).

    We've already seen a few exceptions (obscenity, fighting words, etc.) carved out of the First Amendment. When is somebody going to revisit this old chestnut and decide that blasphemy impairs order, and therefore isn't protected?

  50. C. S. P. Schofield says


    Saying the Crusades had nothing to do with converting Muslims is like saying that the Civil War had nothing to do with Southern arrogance. It may not have been the number one reason, but it certainly was sitting in the back on a number of minds.

  51. TimS says


    I agree that actions should have consequences. If the Muslim world can't learn the lesson from our 30 Years War, letting them have theirs might help – with us standing on the sideline keeping their mess in their backyard. But that isn't possible, mostly for technological reasons, but also because we have a preferred side to win. By contrast, there was no third-party that had a preferred winner of the 30 Years War – "A curse on both their houses" is a different attitude entirely.

    But even if it were possible, I'm totally unconvinced that bringing back the British Raj or its equivalent is likely to change the attitudes of the average Muslim is the direction we desire. And your story about conflicting customs is precisely the issue – the British didn't have a custom of hanging people, they had a moral duty. If the Hindu meant moral duty when he said custom, he was being disingenuous, and the Brit had every right to call him on it.

    @En Passant

    I was talking more about Africa than India with the part of the comment you highlighted. It's obviously difficult to do persuasive counter-factual history, but "African-Americans are better off having been brought to the USA" has obvious problems even if we ignore the 200 years of chattel slavery.


    I'm a big believer in free speech. Ken's entirely right that blasphemy laws are just tools for oppression of dissent. C.S.P. is still wrong about why the Muslim world is the way it is, and what will improve the situation.

  52. says

    On the one hand, I'm sometimes tempted to say that a blasphemy law would be a good idea. Since all major religions are blasphemous in the eyes of the other major religions in some way or another, all believers would be put to death. Then we can move on with no religion and no problems like these.

    On the other hand, I am offended by all this talk of blasphemy laws. We should make it illegal, and put do death anyone that dares to profane against the Freedom of Speech.

    On the gripping hand, this is all stupid.

  53. Jay Z says

    This doesn't scare me, but it does affirm my belief in the first amendment. That is, that other people are free to practice their religion and free to speak.

  54. Joseph says

    @Schofield: Because the whole "colonial paternalism" thing wasn't in any way responsible for the current situation in the Muslim world. Iran is a good example: there's a good chance that there wouldn't be an Islamic Republic of Iran if the US (at England's urging) hadn't overthrown Mohammed Mossadegh and brought back the Shah. There were always religious extremists in Iran, but they didn't become popular enough to take over the government until they were the only people willing to stand up to the Shah's tyranny (which was no better than the atrocities Ken cites above, just on primarily political rather than religious grounds). Like it or not, the whole "Islam vs. the West" thing is largely the result of European colonialism; most examples are subtler than Iran, but the fact remains that colonial paternalism engenders a lot of anger entirely aside from tendencies of some Islamic sects to do so.

    This doesn't mean that I'm for blasphemy laws (way to straw man, y'all), or even not vigorously against them, but I think going in and punching Islamists with spiked knuckes until they stop being stupid is only going to make things worse.

  55. Jarrod says

    With all respect to Schofield, your Mughal Empire example doesn't really fit when taken into context. The Islamic Mughal Empire were certainly less tolerant Buddhists and Hindus of pre-colonial India, but frankly, so was everyone including the "progressive" Christian nations of the west. When Buddhist influenced beliefs of religious tolerance, pacifism, and respect for all life first reached our enlightened, civilized American shores, they were met with derision and scorn by the American mainstream (and to some extent they still are.) As is the case of most autocracies, some rulers were far less tolerant than others, but in general their whole "taxing the non-believers a bit more" system religious discrimination seems positively benign compared to most Christian nations of the 17th and 18th centuries. More tellingly, the average Indian citizen lived in peace with his neighbors despite religious differences pretty much until the British occupation and partition.

    So yes, I would say that in the case of India, Islam was doing just fine before western intervention.

    I'm not saying we should sit here and tacitly approve the abhorrent practices of many Islamic states, but frankly your jingoistic approach has hurt things in the past and will do more harm than good. When a country attacks us, or affirmatively sponsors a proxy to attack us, we should absolutely strike back until the threat is eliminated. However, if we're going to attack a sovereign state every time they commit human rights abuses against their own citizens, it would be the height of hypocrisy not to include our own. After all, if it's morally and legally proper for us to bomb Pakistan because they allow honor killings, why shouldn't California be able to bomb Texas because they think you should only execute criminals who aren't mentally retarded? If we're going to send Marines in to, as you put it, "thump" Egypt for enacting anti-blasphemy laws that infringe free speech, why aren't we sending Marines into Minnesota?

  56. Jarrod says

    Apologies, that first part of my prior comment should be directed at En Passant. The rest still applies to Mr. Schofield.

  57. Tim says

    Odd thing this. It's 2012 and there's still blasphemy laws. And they're still enforced. What sickens me more than the fact that they exist is that people refuse to aknowlege the fact that using blasphemy as a way to punish those who dont believe the way you do is the same thing as screaming at the top of your lungs "MY GOD IS WEAK AND CANNOT SMITE ANYMORE, SO I HAVE TO DO IT FOR HIM"

  58. Jess says

    I have to say Suzan Masoud summed it up very well on her blog.

    One just cannot protect an intangible ideal such as religion. Why?

    It’s because religion is not fragile, on the verge of collapsing upon an instance of criticism. Religion is not paper and ink. It’s ironic for some authority to sprint eagerly tooth and nail in protection of pages from a book when they do not comply with its actual message.


  1. […] Ken White, an American attorney who writes at the Popehat law blog and defends the First Amendment to the US Constitution, put together a record of cases of blasphemy that have been reported over the last year. While Islam and those who pretend to defend it make up the majority of the cases, Christianity also shows up on the wrong side of liberty. The listing is both depressing and scary. A Year of Blasphemy […]

  2. […] calls to let "other values" trump free speech in the case of blasphemy laws by simply rounding up a years worth of blasphemy-related news stories. I could quote his conclusion, but instead, I'll just quote the first month's worth of […]