Founded in 1981, the Institute on Religion & Democracy has been a voice for transparency, for renewal, and for Christian orthodoxy.
By Andrew Harrod
The Dutch parliament on November 29, 2012, abolished Holland’s blasphemy law in a rare victory for intellectual freedom often under attack today from various self-anointed defenders of Islam. Yet the continuing existence of similar statutes throughout free societies in Europe and elsewhere, along with recent legal actions, show that the battle between Islamic faith and freedom is far from over.
Drafted in the 1930s, the Dutch blasphemy law had not seen application for the last half century, prompting legislators to consider the law obsolete. Electoral losses among various rightwing parties in parliamentary elections last September also weakened the law’s supporters. Additionally, some observers credit the successful defense in June 2011 of Dutch politician Geert Wilders against hate speech charges concerning his condemnation of Islam with an indirect role in influencing the law’s abolition.
Nonetheless, the Pew Forum has recently documented that blasphemy laws, along with prohibitions of apostasy and defamation, are widespread throughout Europe and the wider world. As of 2011, 47% of the world’s countries and territories have “have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith), or defamation (disparagement or criticism of particular religions or religion in general).” Religious defamation laws “were most common in Europe, where 36 of the region’s 45 countries (80%) had such laws or policies in 2011.” Most of “these laws tended to penalize religious hate speech rather than defamation of religion.” A blasphemy law in Greece (Article 189 of the Greek Criminal Code) produced a prosecution last September against a Greek man who on Facebook mocked a nationally-beloved Orthodox priest recently deceased in 1994.
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