Archive | Blasphemy

Prison for Blasphemy

The Guardian (UK) reports:

A man who created a Facebook page poking fun at a revered Greek Orthodox monk has been sentenced to 10 months in prison in Greece after being found guilty of blasphemy…. Filippos Loizos, 28, … used a play on words to portray Father Paisios as a traditional pasta-based dish [pastitsio -EV] ….

Father Paisios, who was revered for his spiritual teachings and was said by some believers to have powers of prophecy, died in 1994.

Loizos had appealed against the ruling and would not be jailed before his case was heard by a higher court, Kleftodimos said.

Here’s what seems to be a copy of the Facebook page:

A reminder that blasphemy prosecutions are, unfortunately, not entirely a thing of the past in Europe. Thanks to Bill Poser for the pointer. [...]

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Mauritanian Convicted of Apostasy

AllAfrica and The Malay Mail Online, as well as other outlets, so report. From AllAfrica:

A young Muslim man in Mauritania is facing a possible death sentence after being convicted of apostasy and jailed for having written an article criticising the prophet Mohammed, a judicial source said … He … “was convicted of lack of respect for the prophet,” and jailed, the source told AFP.

The author of the article will be brought before a judge and given the chance to repent but if he refuses, “he risks the death penalty,” the source added.

The author apparently “questioned the decisions taken by Islam’s prophet and his companions during the holy wars,” as well accusing Mauritanian society “of perpetuating ‘a sinful social order'” and and “marginali[zing] and discriminat[ing] against [many Mauritanians] from birth.” [...]

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You Can’t Force Public School Students to Salute the Flag (or to Hold Their Hands over Their Hearts)

That’s been well-settled First Amendment law for 70 years, but some government officials are still not on top of it. Three years ago, a judge’s attempt to force people to say the Pledge hit the news; now, it’s a Florida teacher. According to Hernando Today,

An Explorer K8 teacher was suspended [for five days without pay] after trying to force one of her students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, according to an investigation….

After the student informed [teacher Anne Daigle-McDonald] of [his religious objection to saluting,] McDonald went to the front of the class and said, “If you don’t want to say the pledge, you still have to put your hand on your heart and if you don’t want to do that, you should move out of the country,” according to the report.

The report also shows McDonald said something about there not being a religion that prohibits doing the pledge, according to the investigation.

Several other students in the class corroborated the allegations, according to the investigation.

Here, by the way, is a passage from the Court’s 1943 Barnette opinion, striking down a compulsory flag salute (and not just the compulsory pledge); the logic would apply equally to a compulsion to put one’s hand on one’s heart:

There is no doubt that, in connection with the pledges, the flag salute is a form of utterance. Symbolism is a primitive but effective way of communicating ideas. The use of an emblem or flag to symbolize some system, idea, institution, or personality, is a short cut from mind to mind. Causes and nations, political parties, lodges and ecclesiastical groups seek to knit the loyalty of their followings to a flag or banner, a color or design. The State announces rank, function, and authority through crowns and maces, uniforms

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Irish Constitutional Convention Recommends Referendum on Changing Blasphemy Ban to “Incitement to Religious Hatred” Ban

The Irish Constitution expressly prohibits blasphemy; the Irish Constitutional Convention has just voted to recommend a referendum on replacing this provision with a ban on “incitement to religious hatred,” though delegates were split on whether there should be a statutory blasphemy ban as well:

Voting yesterday on whether the offence of blasphemy should be kept as it is in the Constitution, 38 per cent said yes, 61 per cent no and 1 per cent were undecided or had no opinion.

In a follow-up question, 38 per cent said the offence should be removed from the Constitution, 53 per cent said it should be replaced with a new general provision to include incitement to religious hatred and 9 per cent had no opinion. Asked whether there should be a legislative provision for the offence of blasphemy, 49 per cent of members said yes, 50 per cent said no and 1 per cent were undecided or had no opinion.

According to the Irish Times,

Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland said the offence should be retained, arguing that freedom of expression should not be “unrestrained” and must be used responsibly. The Order of the Knights of St Columbanus argued in a written submission that the constitutional prohibition on blasphemy served to safeguard the right of believers “not to suffer unwarranted offence arising from the gratuitous impugning of sacred matter”.

On the other hand, secularist groups, civil liberties groups, and “[t]he umbrella group representing almost all Christian churches in Ireland” urged repeal of the ban. As readers of the blog might gather, I think both a ban on blasphemy and a ban on “incitement to religious hatred” are improper. Religious belief systems, like other belief systems, should be open to criticism and mockery — and, indeed to [...]

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10-Year Sentence in Kuwait for Blasphemy and for Criticism of Saudi and Bahrain Rulers

From Agence France Press:

Kuwait’s court of appeals on Monday upheld a 10-year jail term against a Shia tweeter for remarks [on Twitter] deemed offensive to Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, his wife and companions.

Hamad al-Naqi … was found guilty of the religious insults and of criticising the leaders of neighbouring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, according to the court ruling….

Naqi claimed his Twitter accounts were hacked during that period….

If anyone can point me to an authoritative source describing the text of the remarks, I’d love to see them. Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. [...]

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“Messiah” Returns

A month ago, a Tennessee judge ordered that a child’s first name be changed from “Messiah,” reasoning:

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Judge Ballew said….

According to Judge Ballew, it is the first time she has ordered a first name change. She said the decision is best for the child, especially while growing up in a county with a large Christian population.

“It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is,” Judge Ballew said.

Back then, I argued that this decision was unconstitutional, and I’m happy to report that a higher court has indeed reversed it:

Chancellor Telford E. Forgety Jr. overturned Ballew’s decision, ruling that the lower court acted unconstitutionally. He said the lower court violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, and added that the court’s purpose was to determine the last name of the child, not his first name.

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

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Atheist Bangladeshi Bloggers Being Prosecuted for “Defaming Islam and the Prophet Mohammed”

Agence France Press reports:

“They have been indicted… with defaming Islam, the Prophet Mohammed and other religions through their Internet writings. They spread malice against all religions,” [Judge Zahirul Haque] said.

[Prosecutor Shah Alam] Talukdar said if found guilty the bloggers, who are free on bail, could be sentenced to seven years in jail under the country’s ICT (Information Communication Technology) laws.

“All four have claimed to be atheists,” he added….

[An Anti-Islam blogger was murdered] amid massive rallies in the capital in which secular groups demanded the hanging of leading Islamists accused of war crimes during the 1971 war of liberation.

Islamist groups have since staged nationwide demonstrations, with their demands including the prosecution — and execution — of atheist bloggers….

I posted about the arrests in the case earlier this year. Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. [...]

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Rationalist Activist Murdered in India

From today’s :

For nearly three decades, an earnest man named Narendra Dabholkar traveled from village to village in India, waging a personal war against the spirit world.

If a holy man had electrified the public with his miracles, Dr. Dabholkar, a former physician, would duplicate the miracles and explain, step by step, how they were performed. If a sorcerer had amassed a fortune treating infertility, he would arrange a sting operation to unmask the man as a fraud. His goal was to drive a scientist’s skepticism into the heart of India, a country still teeming with gurus, babas, astrologers, godmen and other mystical entrepreneurs.

That mission ended Tuesday, when two men ran up behind Dr. Dabholkar, 67, as he crossed a bridge, shot him at point-blank range, then jumped onto a motorbike and disappeared into the traffic coursing through this city.

Dr. Dabholkar’s killing is the latest episode in a millenniums-old wrestling match between traditionalists and reformers in India. When detectives began putting together a list of Dr. Dabholkar’s enemies, they found that it was long. He had received threats from Hindu far-right groups, been beaten by followers of angry gurus and challenged by councils upholding archaic caste laws….

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Singaporean Resort Owner in Malaysia Arrested, Loses Permanent Residency, for Letting Buddhists Meditate in Muslim Prayer Room

The Malay Mail reports:

The holiday resort owner in Sedili Besar, near Kota Tinggi, was released on police bail yesterday, after being remanded for four days to facilitate investigations into him allowing the resort’s surau to be used for a Buddhist religious ceremony.

Johor police had said that the investigation papers of the case were, however, being finalised and had yet to be submitted to the public prosecutor for further action.

Today [Aug. 17], Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the Singaporean’s PR has been revoked, effective immediately….

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

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Judge Orders That Child’s Name Be Changed from “Messiah”

So reports The Tennesseean; the parents came before the court because of a dispute over what the child’s last name should be, but the judge changed the child’s first name as well, giving two reasons:

“The word Messiah is a title and it’s a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ,” Judge Ballew said….

According to Judge Ballew, it is the first time she has ordered a first name change. She said the decision is best for the child, especially while growing up in a county with a large Christian population.

“It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is,” Judge Ballew said.

The first reason strikes me as clearly unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause. A judge may not reject parents’ decisions based on her view of the messianic status of Jesus — that is a theological question that cannot be used as the basis of government decisionmaking about people’s rights. This principle most often arises in church property disputes, where the Supreme Court has held that courts may not decide which faction in a church is the more religiously orthodox, but it also applies more broadly to prohibit the government from adjudicating people’s rights based on theological judgments (see, e.g., United States v. Ballard). But beyond this constitutional question, I quite doubt that Tennessee law authorizes judges to make decisions based on their theological judgments.

The second reason is theoretically more defensible; some courts have indeed barred adults from officially adopting names that seem likely to cause fights (see, e.g., this article, and in particular the Misteri Nigger case plus possibly the Fuck Censorship! case, both cited by the article). [...]

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7 Years in Prison + 600 Lashes in Saudi Arabia for “Insulting Islam”

CNN reports:

A Saudi court has sentenced a activist to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for violating the nation’s anti-cybercrime law, Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday.

A Jeddah Criminal Court found Raif Badawi, who has been in prison since June 2012, guilty this week of insulting Islam through his website and in television comments….

Unfortunately, none of the news stories I saw on this reported on exactly what speech was found to be punishable; if any of our readers can point me to a translation of the exact statements, or even a credible summary of the statements, I’d be much obliged. The best I could find was this passage from the Human Rights Watch report, but it’s not clear whether it’s the same thing that the court relied on:

On March 18, 2012, the well-known cleric Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak issued a religious ruling declaring Badawi an “unbeliever … and apostate who must be tried and sentenced according to what his words require.” Al-Barrak claimed that Badawi had said “that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and atheists are all equal,” and that even if these were not Badawi’s own opinions but “an account of the words of others, this is not allowed unless accompanied by a repudiation” of such words.

UPDATE: Amnesty International gives a bit more detail, though I’d still love to see translations of the original articles:

The charges against Raif Badawi relate to a number of articles he has written, including one about Valentine’s Day — the celebration of which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. He was accused of ridiculing Saudi Arabia’s Commission on the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (also known as the religious police) in the conclusion of his article. The charges against him also mention his failure to remove articles by

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Sri Lanka Bans Time Magazine with Cover Story on Buddhist-Led Pogroms in Myanmar

So Agence France Press reported last week:

Customs department spokesman Leslie Gamini said they held the July 1 issue, because it carried a photo of a prominent Myanmar monk under the headline: “The Face of Buddhist Terror”

“By operation of law these magazines will be confiscated,” Gamini said. “We did not allow this issue to be distributed in Sri Lanka because we felt it could hurt the religious sentiments of the people.”

Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, where tensions with Muslims and other minority religious communities have been rising, is the second country to censor the edition after Myanmar also blocked it.

The online version of the magazine is still available, however.

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Muslim Cleric in Egypt Sentenced to 11 Years for Ripping up Bible, Insulting Christianity, and “Disturbing Peace and Security”

So reports Daily News Egypt:

Coptic lawyer Naguib Gabriel had filed a complaint against Abu Islam, accusing the preacher of insulting the Christian faith and Egyptian women, specifically Christian women.

Abu Islam, who owns Al-Omma satellite channel, tore a Bible apart on 11 September 2012 at a protest outside the US Embassy in Cairo against the Innocence of Muslims, a film that caused widespread demonstrations across the Muslim world.

During a programme on his channel, he said that 90% of the female protesters in Tahrir Square were Christian, saying they attend the demonstrations “half naked” with the purpose of getting sexually harassed.

The cleric’s son was likewise sentenced to eight years in prison for his participation in the same act. Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer. [...]

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Schoolteacher in Egypt Fined $14,000 for Allegedly Insulting Islam

Daily News Egypt reports:

Demiana Abdel Nour, a 24-year-old social studies teacher in Luxor, was summoned by the public prosecutor on 8 May after parents of three students at Sheikh Sultan Primary School filed complaints claiming that Abdel Nour insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad by saying that the late [Coptic] Pope Shenouda III performed more miracles than the Prophet. They added that she placed her hand on her stomach to convey nausea when mentioning the Prophet.

However, according to [defense lawyer] Ahmed Ezzat, … a large number of students denied that any such attacks on religion had taken place.

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

UPDATE: I initially erroneously said the fine was $100,000, but it’s actually 100,000 Egyptian pounds, which is about $14,000p; thanks to commenter SykesFive for correcting me on this. [...]

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