Washington Post Asks Its “On Faith” Panel Members Whether Blasphemy Should Be Outlawed

The answers are here; the precise question is:

Is blasphemy a crime?

Atheists and others are protesting a new law in Ireland, under which a person can be found guilty of blasphemy if “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.” The penalty is a fine of up to about $35,000. Should Ireland or any nation have a law against blasphemy?

I’m sorry to report that the one person who answers yes (of course, out of a non-randomly-selected panel) is Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: “Since the United States curtails the freedom to spread racial hatred or racial prejudice, there is no reason why there cannot be laws limiting the freedom of spreading slanderous information against religious groups.” The Rabbi’s bottom line is wrong, but his assumption is wrong, too; under modern U.S. First Amendment law, the spreading of racial hatred and racial prejudice is generally constitutionally protected. (I agree that there are some unconstitutional restrictions on the expressions of such viewpoints imposed by hostile work environment law, but it seems to me pretty clear that the Rabbi is talking about criminal bans on all spreading of such information, and not just civil liability for speech in the workplace.)

Thanks to Prof. Josie Brown (First Amendment Law Prof Blog) for the pointer.

UPDATE: I originally erroneously said the Post asked religious figures this; I now realize that it asked its On Faith panel members, some of whom are members of the clergy or leaders of religious organizations and some of whom are not.

FURTHER UPDATE: There are no obviously Muslim reactions on the list, and I decided to look into it. A look at the list of On Faith panelists showed that one of the quoted panelists was Muslim, though apparently a far-from-conservative Muslim — Pamela K. Taylor, listed as “co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values, former director of the Islamic Writers Alliance and strong supporter of the woman imam movement.” Taylor strongly condemned blasphemy laws, including ones called for by Muslims. (“Ireland’s law against blasphemy is as wrong-headed as calls from the Muslim world for a UN treaty to protect religions from mockery. Ridicule, insult, biting sarcasm, invective, and heretical, blasphemous words — everything that these groups object to — are important parts of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience.”)

The other apparently Muslim panel members, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Hadia Mubarak, and Daisy Khan were not quoting as having responded, though I should note that many of the non-Muslim panelists weren’t quoted as having responded, either. So it sounds like the Post is asking Muslims to comment on these questions, but the small number of Muslim panelists (understandable, in a country where Muslims are only a small percentage of the population and one of many different religious denominations) contributes to a small number of Muslim responses.

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