Blasphemy laws threaten our freedom

Oh noes! Now the Moslems will be after me!
Oh noes! Now the Moslems will be after me!

I don’t know if any of you have been following the recent legislation in Ireland.  I have been reading about the proposed Blapshemy Laws for a few days now, and am concerned.  For those of you who would like to catch up, here’s a resource for you.

Basically, it may become illegal to criticize people’s religious beliefs.

The proposed law states the following:

  1. 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 €100,000.
  2. For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
  3. It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

Now, the second part of this mentions that the problem is outrage being caused by people who become upset by comments, short films, or cartoons.  Why the hell would anyone riot over such things? And why are the Irish trying to protect people who would? The problem here is religious people, here primarily Moslems, reacting violently because of criticism, not the criticism itself.  It makes perfect sense to riot because someone has implied that your religion is violent, right?

There have been a number of movements in Europe that have moved towards legislating protections for religion in the last few years.  The acceptance of sharia in the UK is one such concession.  Issues concerning whether women can wear burqas in their identification pictures is another (although the French have not sided with accomodation, at least). What is going on here?

Part of what is happening is that Moslems are moving into Europe and the United States in significant numbers.  When I lived in West Philadelphia for a few years, I lived a few blocks away from two mosques and saw women in their burqas quite frequently.  When people move into a place, they bring their culture with them.  That will inevitably involve their concepts of law, morality, and religion.

Now, there are many points of sharia law that differ from the laws of the various nations that Moslems are moving into.  And the openness and liberalism of these nations–places like Belgium, the Netherlands, etc–mean that they will try to accommodate the people that live there.  This, to a certain extent, is admirable.  The willingness to open yourself up to different cultures can lead to a better understanding of one-another and it is at the heart of what a free society is all about.

However, there is a point where in doing so you give up on what that liberalism and tolerance are meant to protect.  Pat Condell says it best, perhaps:

(Also see this one (Ban the burka) and this one (Sharia in the UK))

I agree with Pat Condell here.  Criticism is essential.  We cannot make it a law that you cannot criticize religion.  What will come of speech such as Pat Condell’s if Blasphemy laws are passed? What will happen to legitimate criticism of religion (or any other beliefs) if we are not allowed to say anything that may hurt someone’s feelings?

Religion cannot continue to get a free pass on criticism, as it has enjoyed for so long.  You can criticize someone’s movie tastes, belief in UFOs, but don’t criticize Islam or Christianity!  You might hurt someone’s feelings if you do that.  There is no reason to give religious beliefs a free pass here.

It can only be the height of insecurity that would require religious views to be protected behind walls of legislation.  We must challenge ourselves.  And those that will not, we must allow others to challenge them.  We must force those who make claims about the universe to support their ideas and allow skeptics and other dissenters to criticize their views as they merit.

I simply cannot understand what the Dail in Ireland is thinking.  I hope that it will not pass the Seanad.  And if it does, I hope that some will come out and test this law with blasphemy as loud as one can say it.  I hope that the continuing undue respect, especialy to Islam in many parts of Europe, does not continue.  I hope that people of reason will not be silenced by the fear that is projected by the faithful who feel the need to protect themselves from harsh words or criticism.