Thursday, January 7, 2010


It is easy to smile at the new Irish blasphemy law, which apparently imposes a whopping fine of 25,000 Euros (over $35,000) for "publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion." A group of Irish athiests is attempting to challenge the law by breaking it with a posting of famous blasphemous quotes.

But did you know that some American states also prohibit blasphemy? Oh, yes, they do. And it's not even the states you're thinking of.

A 1931 Michigan state law, still in force, provides "Any person who shall wilfully blaspheme the holy name of God, by cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." (And the next section says, "Any person who has arrived at the age of discretion, who shall profanely curse or damn or swear by the name of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.")

A Massachusetts statute (apparently going back to 1697, but still in force) provides, "Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior."

Oklahoma law (sorry, no ready link) provides that "Blasphemy consists in wantonly uttering or publishing words, casting contumelious reproach or profane ridicule upon God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Scriptures or the Christian or any other religion," and that "Blasphemy is a misdemeanor," although it exempts words used in the course of "serious discussion."

Sure, these laws are probably unconstitutional. But they're on the books. So Ireland isn't the only one limiting free speech in the name of protecting God from verbal abuse.

No comments: