Archive | Blasphemy

School Excluding Anti-Religious Material from a “Limited Public Forum”

So allege the plaintiffs in Freedom From Religious Foundation v. Orange County School Board (M.D. Fla.), filed last week, and the letter from the school board — Exhibit A — bears this out.

First, a bit of background. Some public schools have allowed religious groups to distribute Bibles at the school. This led to Establishment Clause lawsuits, on the theory that schools’ allowing such distribution (and not other distribution of other works) involved favoritism for religion. So a Florida school board in Collier County tried to deal with the objections — and with the requests from religious groups to continue the distribution — by setting up a “limited public forum” program in which any group is allowed to periodically bring material that students may pick up, except for material that

(i) promotes the use of alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs; (ii) advertises products or services for sale; (iii) is not appropriate for the age and maturity of high school students; (iv) is pornographic, obscene or libelous; (v) violates intellectual property or privacy rights; (vi) advocates or is likely to incite imminent lawless action; or (vii) is likely to cause substantial disruption at the school despite the application of available discipline rules and procedures.

The material is supposed to be placed on tables, so that students can pick it up if they want to; the representatives of the donor organizations aren’t allowed to urge students to take the material, or to discuss the material with students. The defendant school board in this new case, Orange County School Board, has apparently implemented in a similar policy for high schools.

Now when the government opens up a “limited public forum” on its own property for speech, it may of course exclude (1) generally constitutionally unprotected material (such as the “obscene or libelous”) […]

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Turkish Blogger Sentenced to 13 Months in Prison for Criticizing Mohammed

Hurriyet Daily News reported last week:

An Istanbul court has sentenced Turkish-Armenian writer Sevan Nişanyan to 58 weeks in prison for an alleged insult to the Prophet Muhammad in a blog post.

The prosecutor had been seeking one and a half years of jail time for Nişanyan on charges of “insulting the religious beliefs held by a section of the society.” …

Nişanyan was convicted of writing, in reference the controversy over the “Innocence of Muslims” video:

Making fun of an Arab leader who claimed he contacted Allah hundreds of years ago and received political, financial and sexual benefits is not hate speech. It is an almost kindergarten-level test of what is called freedom of expression.

Here, according to a site that appears to be Nişanyan’s own, is a statement that Nişanyan made to the court during the trial:

This person named Muhammed has claimed to have established communication with the Maker of the Universe — God forgive my sins — and to have received a book from Her. This, in my conscience and belief, is blasphemy of the worst kind. Yet I do not bring a legal complaint against this person. For everyone has the right to believe in whatever silliness they wish and to take for truth whatever superstition they choose, so long as they do not violate the rights of others.

In consequence of his claim to have established contact with Deity, this Muhammed, who was a lowly merchant, acquired political dominion over all Arabia and gained the financial means to raise 30-thousand-strong armies. Again as a result of his claim to “Prophethood”, we learn from canonical Islamic sources that he acquired a total of at least eleven wives and two unwed concubines. In other words, it is an incontrovertible historical fact that this person made


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Arab Israeli Legislator Proposes Ban on Insults to Mohammed (and Possibly All Cartoons of Mohammed)

Israel Hayom reports:

Arab MK Ibrahim Sarsur (Ra’am-Ta’al) has reintroduced [together with two other legislators from Arab parties] legislation that would lower the threshold for what is considered a racist offense and would ban the publication of materials that disparage the Prophet Muhammad [as well as Moses, Jesus, and various religious scriptures] through a “cartoon, defamation and insult.”

Israeli law apparently already bans “crudely offensive” actions towards a religion or religionists; the bill would remove “crudely” and give specific examples of what is covered, “such as the drawing of the Prophet Muhammad.” Sarsur is quoted as saying, in the bill’s preamble:

The publication of a cartoon that depicts the Prophet Muhammad is highly insulting towards Muslim believers as Islamic law forbids any attempt to draw the prophet or try to portray the image of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him ….

There has recently been a noticeable increase in the attempts to hurt members of various faiths, whether directly or indirectly, including Muslims [including through slurs and “acts that cast a negative light on Islamic symbols.”]


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Russian Bill Criminalizing Insults to Religious Feeling Passes Second Reading in Parliament so reports. The bill would criminalize “actions in public, demonstrating clear disrespect to society and committed with the intent to insult the religious feelings of believers,” with the maximum punishment being one year in prison, or three years if the actions are committed in a place of worship. The final vote on the law is expected by the end of the week. Thanks to my father Vladimir Volokh for the pointer. […]

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Woman Parading Dressed as Pope from Waist Up, Naked from Waist Down, Charged with Public Nudity

TribLive (Pittsurgh) reports:

Carnegie Mellon University police on Friday filed charges of indecent exposure against two art students accused of public nudity during a campus parade sponsored by the College of Fine Arts.

Police identified the female student accused of parodying the pope as she paraded nude from the waist down as Katherine B. O’Connor, 19 …, a sophomore art major ….

University President Jared Cohon, who has publicly apologized for the April 18 papal parody, announced the charges in an email on Friday. He said the university will not discipline the students.

Police charged Robb S. Godshaw, 22, of Wilmette, Ill., accusing him of dressing as an astronaut and disrobing atop a float during the parade. Photographs on Godshaw’s Facebook page show him disrobing and riding the float naked, police said in court documents….

The criminal charges capped a university review triggered by an inquiry from Bishop David Zubik of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese. Zubik asked the university to take a stand on the papal parody, which he found offensive….

“As I have said over these last few weeks, this is an opportunity for all of us to be reminded that freedom of speech and freedom of expression do not constitute a freedom to dismiss or disrespect the beauty of anyone’s race, the sacredness of anyone’s religious belief or the uniqueness of anyone’s nationality,” Zubik said.

“The students took part in a campus art event and, in the case of the student who portrayed herself as the Pope, made an artistic statement which proved to be controversial,” Cohon said.

“While I recognize that many found the students’ activities deeply offensive, the university upholds their right to create works of art and express their ideas. But, public nudity is a violation of the law and subject to appropriate action.”

Some […]

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Women at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Post reports (thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer):

In a groundbreaking ruling, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an earlier decision of the magistrate’s court that women who wear prayer shawls (“tallitot” in Hebrew) at the Western Wall Plaza are not contravening “local custom” or causing a public disturbance, and therefore should not be arrested.

The issue of equal prayer rights at the site has risen to the forefront of public debate in recent months due to the frequent arrests of women participating in the prayer services that the Women of the Wall activist group holds there….

The Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the Jews, dating from 1981, forbid performing religious ceremonies that are “not according to local custom” or that “may hurt the feelings of the worshipers” at the site, where local custom is interpreted to mean Orthodox practice.

These regulations and their interpretation, which a Supreme Court ruling upheld in 2003 and a Justice Ministry directive reiterated in 2005, have been the legal basis for the regular arrests of women who perform Jewish customs at the Western Wall that are usually practiced only by men in Orthodox Judaism….

[But] Judge Moshe Sobell … ruled that the definition of “local custom” did not automatically mean Orthodox practice… In reference to the charges of causing a public disturbance and disturbing the peace, Sobell ruled that even if the women had behaved in a way that was disruptive, they were in no way suspected of violent or verbal behavior that would either disturb the peace or endanger the public.

I take it there’ll be further litigation on this, given the apparent conflict with the earlier Supreme Court ruling. I blogged about the issue last year, so I thought I’d note this new […]

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“Racist Hate Speech” Conviction in Belgium for Tearing up Koran in Front of a Group of Muslims

Dr. Jogchum Vrielink (coordinator of the Centre for Discrimination Law at the University of Leuven, Belgium) passes this along:

In Belgium a man was convicted for ‘racist hate speech’ because he publicly tore up a Koran, before the eyes of a group of Muslims. The case illustrates the need to protect free speech against those seeking to criminalise ‘Islamophobia’.

On 8 June 2012 a man, identified as Arne S., participated in a demonstration organised by a radical right-wing political party, Vlaams Belang (‘Flemish Interest’), opposing the construction of a mosque in the Belgian coastal city of Ostend. In the aftermath of the demonstration S. tore up a Koran in the presence of a small group of Muslims, with whom he had exchanged words. The public prosecutor indicted S. for incitement to hatred, discrimination and violence on the basis of race and ethnic origin.

The defendant’s attorney called for an acquittal, arguing that no infraction on the anti-racism legislation had occurred. The criminal court in Bruges convicted the man, however, on 11 March 2013. Due in part to the unfavourable criminal history of the defendant, the sentence was relatively severe, consisting of an effective prison sentence of four months and a fine of 600 euros. The court held that the facts were serious and testified to “a blatant lack of tolerance and a highly questionable attitude”.


The ruling fits within a wider development in the legal world in general, and in Belgium in particular, of increased sensitivity to what is often referred to as ‘Islamophobia’. Another notable example of this trend, within Belgian case law, was the conviction, a few years ago, of an individual who, while drunk, had shouted “Terrorist!” at a sun-tanned, but Caucasian (!), snack bar owner, adding that the latter should “return to his own country”.


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Turkish Composer and Pianist Fazil Say Sentenced for “Insulting Muslim Values”

So reports the BBC; the sentence is 10 months’ suspended, so that he will not go to jail on this occasion, but he “would be subject to the prison time should he commit a similar crime within five years,” according to

The case against him was based on about half a dozen postings on Twitter mentioned in the indictment, including one mentioning a Turkish liquor and whiskey: “What if there is raki in paradise but not in hell, while there is Chivas Regal in hell and not in paradise? What will happen then? This is the most important question!”

Say’s comments in April 2012 drew criticism from some in predominantly Muslim Turkey, as alcohol is banned by Islam. Say said he was only criticizing the exploitation of religion for profit.

Another tweet cited in the indictment was a retweet saying, “I am not sure if you have also realised it, but if there’s a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, it’s always an Allah-ist.” The Guardian (UK) adds:

In one message he retweeted a verse from a poem by Omar Khayyám in which the 11th-century Persian poet attacks pious hypocrisy: “You say rivers of wine flow in heaven, is heaven a tavern to you? You say two huris [companions] await each believer there, is heaven a brothel to you?” In other tweets, he made fun of a muezzin (a caller to prayer) and certain religious practices.

Fazil Say is apparently quite prominent, and has even “served as a cultural ambassador for the EU.” Thanks to Ipek Bozkurt for the pointer. […]

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“God Is Great — Hang the Atheist Bloggers”

Al Jazeera reports:

Hundreds of thousands of people have held protests in Bangladesh to demand that the government introduce an anti-blasphemy law that would include the death penalty for bloggers who insult Islam….

Supporters of Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamist group which draws support from tens of thousands of religious seminaries [and that has the backing of country’s largest party, Jamaat-e-Islami], converged on Dhaka’s main commercial hub to protest against what they said were blasphemous writings by atheist bloggers, shouting “God is great — hang the atheist bloggers”.

“I’ve come here to fight for Islam. We won’t allow any bloggers to blaspheme our religion and our beloved Prophet Mohammed,” said Shahidul Islam, an imam at a mosque outside Dhaka ….

The bloggers, who deny they are atheists, have sought capital punishment for those found guilty of war crimes during the nation’s liberation war [including the leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami] ….

A well-known protester and blogger, Ahmed Rajib Haider, was killed reportedly by Jamaat supporters….

Zafar Sobhan, editor of the Dhaka Tribune, … said that … it was unlikely that a blasphemy law would be introduced … [and] that the march was less about a blasphemy law but was more of a reaction to calls for the death penalty for political party leaders being tried for war crimes….

The government has blocked about a dozen websites and blogs to stem the unrest. It has also set up a panel, which includes intelligence chiefs, to monitor blasphemy on social media.

Under the country’s cyber laws, a blogger or Internet writer can face up to ten years in jail for defaming a religion.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. […]

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>100 Christian Homes Burned in Pakistan Because of “Allegations That a Christian Man Made Remarks Against … Mohammed”

CNN reports:

[Pakistani Christian] demonstrators denounced the burning of more than 100 homes of Christians on Saturday — a spree spurred by allegations that a Christian man made remarks against the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

Some of the hundreds of protesters Sunday threw stones at police, saying the government failed to adequately protect Christians, Lahore senior police official Rai Tahir said.

Tahir said video footage of the fires helped lead to the arrests of more than 150 attackers. He said charges of terrorism have been filed against the suspects.

The violence that tore through Lahore’s Badami Bagh community Saturday followed the arrest of Sawan Masih, a Christian in his 20s accused of blasphemy….

If convicted, Masih faces the death penalty…. Masih [denied the charges, saying he and his two accusers] got into an argument while drinking and that the other two men threatened to publicly accuse him of blasphemy, according to [a senior police official]….

There have been about 1,400 blasphemy cases since the laws were first enacted in 1986, according to U.S.-based Human Rights Watch. There are more than 15 cases of people on death row for blasphemy in Pakistan, and more than 50 people have been killed while facing trial for the charge, according to the organization….

President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement Saturday on the most recent “unfortunate incident.” He noted that the country’s constitution protects the rights of all Pakistanis, and that “such acts of vandalism against minorities tarnish the image of the country.”

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. […]

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YouTube Banned in Egypt for a Month, as Punishment for Hosting “Innocence of Muslims” Video

AhramOnline reports:

Egypt’s administrative court on Saturday ordered the ban of YouTube in the country for a month for not removing the controversial anti-Islam film, The Innocence of Islam.

The court’s verdict also applies to any website that aided in the sharing of the 13-minute film….

The AP reports much the same, though adds that, “the ruling can be appealed and, based on precedent, may not be enforced.” I’m not quite sure what the latter part means — is it that Egyptian precedent makes this ruling legally unenforceable, or is it that in the past similar rulings have been ignored? — and the AP story does not elaborate.

Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. […]

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More on the Indian State’s Censorship of the Spy Thriller That Was Supposedly Offensive to Muslims

I blogged about this Thursday, under the heading Indian State Government Temporarily Blocks Release of Spy Thriller, Citing Fear of Riots by Muslims. I thought I’d note two follow-ups: First, director Kamal Haasan has “agreed to seven demands of Muslim leaders, mostly muting of the audio of portions objected to by them,” and it now looks like the movie can indeed be released in Tamil Nadu (the state that had blocked it) — and, presumably, will not face potential violent reprisals.

Second, I’ve been trying to figure out just what what supposedly so offensive to some Muslims that it led the Tamil Nadu government to ban it, claiming fears of rioting. I couldn’t find an objective analysis, but I did see a critical opinion column in an Indian political magazine, Tehelka — notwithstanding its likely biases, I thought I’d excerpt it, though I’d be glad to replace or supplement the excerpt from a more objective source, if readers can pass it along. The column begins by suggesting that there were various behind-the-scenes political consideration behind the Tamil Nadu move, and then briefly summarizes the objections:

Those who have watched the film (including this writer) in states other than Tamil Nadu, have found nothing in the film that should offend the sensibilities of Indian Muslims. Vishwaroopam has been running to packed houses in Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, both states with a significant Muslim population, and there has been no breakdown of law and order….

Vishwaroopam is the story of a Muslim RAW agent, who was once a covert operative in the al Qaeda and later saves New York City from a possible terror attack. The story is quite clear that the villainous Muslims are those who are in the al Qaeda, while the Indian Muslim (played by Kamal) is


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10 Years in Prison for Publishing Articles That Insulted the King of Thailand

So reports the Bangkok Post:

The 10-year prison sentence handed down to Voice of Taksin editor Somyot Prueksakasemsuk for lese majeste crimes has prompted criticism from human rights groups worldwide….

[Somyot] was [convicted] of … publishing two articles in 2010 that were deemed insulting to the royal family….

The articles were written by former PM’s Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair under the pseudonym of Jit Polachan and were published in the February and March 2010 editions of the Voice of Taksin magazine.

The four-judge panel said readers would easily understand the articles referred to the King.

The information contained in the article, however, was incorrect and libellous and it was Mr Somyot’s duty to vet it, the court said.

I can’t tell from the story (or from a Reuters story I read on the subject) just what the alleged errors were, and in particular whether they were serious factual errors — the sort of thing that might be treated as criminal libel in some U.S. states even today — or just opinions that the court found incorrect. In any case, it appears from both the Bangkok Post story and the Thai story that the essence of the crime was the insult to the king, not just the alleged errors. […]

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Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Accused of Blasphemy in Pakistani Proceedings

Pakistan Today reports:

The Supreme Court (SC) admitted a petition for hearing against Pakistani ambassador to US Sherry Rehman over allegedly committing blasphemy, a local TV channel reported.

A two-member bench of the SC comprising Justice Anwar Zaheer jamali and Justice Ejaz Afzal directed CCPO Multan [a police official] to take action according to the law.

The petition was submitted by Faheem Akhtar Gill alleging Rehman of committing blasphemy while speaking on a news channel two years ago. (Pakistan) has a similar story. NBC News adds:

The allegations against Rehman, which revolve around comments she made on Pakistani television in 2010, are being brought by Muhammad Faheem Ahkter Gill, a 31-year-old businessman who owns a marble business in the city of Multan.

Gill was watching the television interview with Rehman with two friends. He said he felt her comments were derogatory to the Prophet Muhammad and, being a Muslim, it was his responsibility to do something about it.

“I had been striving to get a blasphemy case registered against her since 2010, but in vain. Today the supreme court has ordered (the police) to register a case against her,” he said.

How far this case is going, and what is the significance of the court order to investigate, I can’t say. Thanks to Paul Milligan for the pointer. […]

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Two Saudi Blasphemy Cases

The International Business Times reports (see also Gulf News and Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty):

Novelist Turki al-Hamad, 58, one of Saudi Arabia’s more unapologetic and outspoken liberal voices, is now in custody for a series of posts he published on his Twitter last weekend comparing fundamentalist Islamist ideology and its strict social controls to Nazism and suggesting that political Islamists like those allied with Saudi Arabia’s royal family have taken their adulation of Prophet Muhammad too far….

The Twitter post that most riled the kingdom’s formidable conservative religious establishment and Ministry of Information was this one, written in Arabic: “Our Prophet had come to rectify the faith of Abraham, and now is a time when we need someone to rectify the faith of Muhammad.”

That is a shocking statement to those who believe the Prophet received Allah’s perfect and final revelation.

By suggesting the Saudi religious authorities are guilty of the very thing they believe they are defending against, and that this needs to be “rectified,” Hamad’s criticism was viewed as an assault on Islam itself and a direct challenge to state defenders of the faith….

The International Business Times article also reports that “Raif Badawi, a 30-year-old website editor from the port city of Jeddah, [is also] facing apostasy charges for insulting Islam through a website he ran called ‘Free Saudi Liberals’ that allowed users to openly discuss the difference between ‘popular’ and ‘politicized’ Islam.” […]

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