Everything Old is New Again (Here as to Anti-Blasphemy Arguments):

Rereading David Rabban's Free Speech in Its Forgotten Years, I ran across a quote from Anthony Comstock -- the architect of the late 1800s prosecutions of "obscenity," including advocacy of free love, distribution of material about contraception, and (most relevant here) blasphemy. Here it is, from Google Books (if the link doesn't work, search Google Books for comstock traps for the young "honest infidels"):

There is a vast difference between [a "respectable infidel" who simply expresses his disagreement on religious matters] and the one who seeks by scoffs and sneers to wound the feelings of those who differ from him, or who makes a living by blaspheming the name of God, and discusses those subjects that most closely concern the interests of the soul so as to provoke laughter and applause from thoughtless ones.
And this scoffing, sneering feeling-wounder was to be the target of criminal prosecution.

Seeing this, I was struck by how similar it is to some of the arguments I've heard in favor of what I've called the "new anti-blasphemy laws," in America and elsewhere -- arguments that likewise often deploy the same distinction between "respectable" criticism of religion, which would supposedly remain protected, and "scoff[ing] and sneer[ing that] wounds the feelings." The distinction was unadministrable and unjustifiable then (as the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately realized in Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952)), and it remains so today. But it's worth remembering how it was deployed in the past, and how much speech has been restricted in its name.