To the point, blasphemy laws intrude on the right of free speech and reflect a religious affectation meant to control what others say about theologically based matters. The idea of offending religious sensibilities to the point of punishment is in and of itself disgusting and distasteful, but there are venues where such regulations attempt to control any defamation of religion.

Such censorship goes against the entire concept of free speech and by doing so seeks to control the thoughts, actions and speech of others free from such constraints. In December of 2010, the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s resolution against "defamation of religion" passed in the United Nations General Assembly. Defamation of religion is an issue repeatedly addressed by some member states of the U.N. since 1998. Up to now, the resolution is nonbinding on U.N. member states.

The Pakistani led OIC want the United Nations to recognize "blasphemy" as a principle of international law, thus limiting free speech rights of more than half of the planet’s population. Free speech is on the line as blasphemy laws base themselves on levels of outrage meaning that a simple statement like “God is Not Great,” may offend slightly or outrageously. Such a rule tramples free speech because it is based on emotional response in levels of anger, the variance that may range between 0% offensiveness to 100%, making it difficult if not impossible to measure.

Levels of anger include, annoyance, irritation, aggravation, displeasure, fury, and rage to name just a few. How does one go about selecting the proper level for inflicting punishment? In Ireland blasphemy is defined as any statements that are "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," and punishable by a $36,081 fine.

That seems a little harsh for a victimless crime. Hurt feelings, injured egos, and bruised beliefs come with life and living. If the worst thing that ever happens in this world is to have one’s feelings abused, whoever it is should consider themselves fortunate. Although Ireland’s law seems a bit harsh, it is kid stuff when compared with the Pakistani Penal Code.

According to Section 295-C of the Penal Code, “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.”

Conversely, many of those pushing for such laws feel no conflict when criticizing entire groups of people that actually exist in the flesh and can be offended and angered by “imputation, innuendo, or insinuation.” For instance, “Great Satan and nigger” are terms I find especially offensive, but under the rule of free speech as odious as I find them, I cannot limit the speaker without limiting myself.

For true freedom, it is necessary for tolerance of others views, beliefs or words. Proposed blasphemy laws are not only intrusive to the rights of others rights, they intrude unnecessarily into the lives of others and encourage despotism. Perhaps, in the prosecution of such cases it should be required that the primary stakeholder or master be required to show up as the plaintiff with no proxy’s, stand-ins or substitutes. Any punishment handed out must follow the same rule.

The idea of blasphemy law is not only offensive it is unreasonable and dictatorial in nature. A relic of the Middle Ages, blasphemy laws allows mob rule and political sabotage especially in third world counties. When considering the benefits of free speech vs. blasphemy laws, I am required by reason to side with free speech. Prosecution of thoughts, ideas and speech based on religious doctrine is nothing short of The Inquisition revisited.

Update: According to a World Public Opinion poll 13 or 20 nations support the right to criticize religion. Support for the right to criticize religion was strongest in the United States at 89 percent (and only nine percent in support of government restrictions). Interestingly, one-third of respondents felt that governments "should have the right to fine or imprison people who publicly criticize a religion because such criticism could defame the religion." Of course, the strongest supporters of restrictions on criticism of religions are in Muslim countries. Additionally, those supporting restrictions are among the most impoverished countries in the world.

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Comment by Ted Foureagles on August 1, 2013 at 8:58pm

jay H:

Those are good points.  I could walk down Cache de Proudre street in Colorado Springs yelling FIRE at the top of my lungs and everyone would rightly dismiss me as a nut and go about their business.  If however I did the same inside a theatre in Aurora I could expect quite a different response because of the context and recent history.  And so, decisions on what sort of speech incites undesirable response is always somewhat arbitrary and in the hands of the powers that be, whether they're governmental, religious or more basically societal.

Here in rural South Carolina saying in public that God probably doesn't exist would be considered hate speech by most, including those in positions of authority, and might put the speaker in considerable danger.

The thing about defining and limiting hate speech is that it is a strong move toward totalitarianism, which only works for you when you are in power.  Someone has to be in charge in our particular brand of society, and so some will always have power over others and get to make the rules.  If it's the Taliban they call the shots on images of Muhammad.  If it's a school board somewhere in Kansas they rule on whether reality is a worthwhile subject of study.

We get into trouble when we try to think in terms of absolutes, which absolutely do not exist in nature.


Comment by jay H on August 1, 2013 at 8:00pm

Free speech with 'limits' is not free speech. Glen may decide that racist epithets are beyond the pale, just as someone else may decide that insulting Mohammed is beyond the pale. Too often free speech is defined as everything except what really bugs the person doing the judging. Some of the very same people who decry racist speech will similarly decry speech offensive to religion. Plenty of people (including 'liberals') consider those equally offensive.

Even the famous 'fire' restriction was, in context, NOT a simple speech limitation. The full example indicated that the shouting of 'fire' where those that hear it are essentially compelled to act.. so it is not just speech but manipulation not unlike telling people that water is safe when it is poisoned.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on August 1, 2013 at 6:31pm


I am not interested in sanitizing words.Remember my example of the ranting racist? Context,  Intent and impact is all that matters. The parallel I gave was apposite and you have agreed to the propriety of the limitation on speech in an airplane but denied any limitation on hate speech in the manner I defined it.

So in essence it is not okay to endanger the lives of a few passengers(right of free speech on plane subordinate to gov's interest in protecting passengers) but it is okay to endanger the lives of an entire ethnic group? And you bring up a good point that the historical memory is relevant in assessing the actual threat. Tolerating the continued rhetoric of historical racism in an attempt to foment action is once again, folly. 

When the government and the will of the people are united in racism, the results are entirely predictable and bloody. Institutionalized racism is a part of our heritage and without a doubt it has exacerbated persecution and discrimination of blacks and native americans. And the internet is a lightening rod for all kinds of inflammatory rhetoric. And many people die even today when hate groups act. And the population of those hate groups and birth of hate groups is abetted by the failure of the government to curtail their speech. And the threat to the safety of minorities is always worse when the economy is bad and that is a cyclical matter.

And as I have pointed out, unlike the popular perception, free speech has limitations and restrictions already. Narrowly tailored statutes banning hate speech is good sense and in no way is it any more a function of who happens to be enforcing at the moment than any other proscriptive statute.

Comment by Ted Foureagles on August 1, 2013 at 6:00pm


Protecting against actions and protecting against words are very different things, and yes, they sometimes overlap.  I wouldn't expect to be able to jump up in the middle of an airline flight and shout, "ALLAHU AKBAR" without some retributory reaction based on historical memory of my fellow passengers.  Nor if I were a southern US politician would I invoke 'state's rights' without understanding how those words were used in the past.

But none of that argues convincingly for banning those specific words in all contexts.  The context of hate speech and blasphemy laws is central to their intent, and so they are in a sense arbitrary and dependent upon who happens to be doing the enforcing at the moment.

I go back to my prior tenet, that banning any form of expression may be politically useful, but is ultimately an attempt to control perception of reality.  I've had my ass beaten while being derided as a 'nigger lover'.  My Cherokee Grandfather never attended school because he was identified by the county as 'colored' and his racist father wouldn't let him attend negro school.  I've watched a cross burn on our lawn because Dad gave business credit to our black neighbors and refused to join the church.  I get it.

What I don't get is how suppressing speech of any sort helps us move beyond such atrocities more than to the little space in which we temporarily feel more comfortable.


Comment by Frankie Dapper on August 1, 2013 at 4:47pm

Why can't we stop certain words, Ted? In light of recent terrorist attacks we can not impersonate a terrorist on an airplane and tell the passengers and crew that.....this is a highjacking and you mother fuckers are all about to die. Heck,  the FAA can ban words much less inflammatory than that.

Is that an arbitrary assumption of power? Or is it really another instance of balancing rights? The free speech rights of the passenger is superceded by the right of the goverment to protect its citizens. 

Think again about balancing the speech rights of members of hate groups against the rights of minority citizens to live in peace and be exempt from the threats made by racists.

Comment by Loren Miller on August 1, 2013 at 4:38pm

Who was it that said that protection of freedom of speech was particularly about protecting speech you don't like?

If someone is actively attempting to foment violence or the overthrow of the government or shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theater or something of that general order, that's ONE thing.  Hurt feelings about speech which impugns one's personal beliefs hardly rise to that level.  As I have said multiple times, those who can't deal with words against their religion or cartoonists or comedians lampooning their god or their prophet can learn to grow a thicker skin, because that brand of speech is liable to continue for a while.

And for the record, I have exactly ZERO intention of cutting those people ANY slack.  If they can dish it out, they can learn to take it.

Comment by Ted Foureagles on August 1, 2013 at 4:20pm

Good comment Glen, and thanks for replying.  I agree that society should exert pressure to inhibit hateful action, and that can include, in special cases, use of words as weapons.  I do not believe that an official sanction on certain words is within the legitimate purview of government, and don't imagine that's what you are saying.

I've seen words used as an effective cudgel by those assuming or aspiring to authority.  But when we attempt to restrict those words through our own assumption of authority we arbitrarily assert that we define reality and so go off the path of recognizing it.  In realpolitik, we do what we must for whatever we define as greatest good, and that sometimes means plugging our ears to chaotic input.  When we strive to plug the ears and tape the mouths of others we, at least in my opinion, overstep our legitimate bounds.


Comment by Frankie Dapper on August 1, 2013 at 3:50pm

Ted Foureagles,

No surprise, you disagree. Twas ever thus when we posit our thoughts and ideas on A/N

Allow me to reiterate or at least make clear that I am advocating a very limited authority in government to ban hate speech. It is invoked only when the obvious intention of the speaker(s) or demonstrator(s) is to incite hatred in others so that they join in a common racist cause, to demoralize and intimidate the minority group, and to see their racist ends to fruition.

Racial epithets spouted by run of the mill racist ranting assholes is outside the scope of the ban. In those countless instances it falls on the conscience of the citizens to confront the ranting assholes. But it is an entirely different situation when a member of a known hate group reaches for the linguistic hammer of  historic racist rhetoric and seeks others to join in so that the evil so and so group is murdered, tortured, deported etc..

This in no way has a chilling effect on speech. It instead sends a message that the government of the usa is not going to turn a blind eye to the dangers posed to citizens most in need of protection. 

Where analysis of free speech is undertaken it is important to understand that the supreme court of the united states applies a balancing of interests. Speech is already curtailed and limited under certain circumstances. Political speech for instance is accorded the greatest protection and the government must show more before a flag burner can be stopped as opposed to the limited protection afforded to commercial speech. The government is preventing pirated totalitarianism when it acts as I suggest. Totalitarianism is avoided. Discourse is unaffected. The niceties of a liberal mantra are of little value to those lynched, murdered abused and otherwise victimized by racists. And if you consider vile racist rhetoric aimed at inciting violence as discourse, then I submit that discourse has no meaning and that in any event the government's burden in protecting its minority citizens is greater than the first amendment rights of the racists to publicly proclaim their clarion call to action. 

Comment by Ted Foureagles on August 1, 2013 at 11:46am

Glen Rosenberg:

I respectfully disagree.  Certainly we who care should despise and counter hate speech, but to ascribe to government means to suppress it implies that we (who happen to hold power of government at the moment) alone are ineffable arbiters of discourse.  Yes, let government, which after all is us in a working democracy, limit ACTIONS deemed hateful, but trying to limit words is one definition of totalitarianism and, I'll posit, a futile attempt to limit reality.


Comment by Frankie Dapper on August 1, 2013 at 11:30am

Ted Foureagles,

The government ought to ban hate speech when that speech is narrowly targeted against ethnic groups in which persecution has occurred as a result of invidious racism. To permit the hate groups to demonstrate and "speak" with the clear intention of gaining adherents in hatred and causing pain and wanting to effectuate their ends: the continued persecution of hated group is pure folly.

In the case of blasphemy the gov. is protecting an institution of oppression, one which is powrful and sadly influential from sleight, whereas the aforementioned ban on hate speech would protect individual citizens who are most vulnerable and are born at a disadvantage relative to other citizens.

Ask yourself what the result might have been in nazi germany if the gov. had such a policy. And think about the deep  south and rest of usa for that matter if gov. had stifled the kkk and voices of trenchant racism.....etc.



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