2009 September 30

International Blasphemy Day Founded


International Blasphemy Day was founded on this day to fight for the right of freedom of expression about religion, including the right to criticize established religions and to deny the existence of any and all supreme beings. It was established by the Center for Inquiry. Ronald Lindsey, President of the Center for Inquiry at the time said, “religious beliefs should be subject to examination and criticism just as political beliefs are, but we have a taboo on religion.”

Blasphemy laws were once prevalent in the U.S., but remain on the books in only a few states today. In other countries, however), blasphemy is a high crime, and is punishable by death in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. (For one of the last blasphemy cases in the U.S. see the ban on the atheist Anthony Bimba, February 26, 1926).

The Supreme Court ruled on First Amendment protection for critical or offensive statements about religion in Burstyn v. Wilson (May 26, 1952). New York sought to ban on the grounds that it was sacrilegious. (Without question, the film casts religion and Jesus in an unfavorable light.) The Court held that “from the standpoint of freedom of speech and the press, it is enough to point out that the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them which is sufficient to justify prior restraints upon the expression of those views. It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures.” While the Court specifically addressed the issue of “sacrilege,” it applied with equal force to allegations of “blasphemy.”

Learn more about the Center for Inquiry: http://www.centerforinquiry.net/cfe/international-blasphemy-rights-day/

Learn About the Burstyn case: Laura Wittern-Keller and Raymond Haberski, The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court (2009)

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