Today is International Blasphemy Rights Day, and we need to think about this lately more than ever before (slight hyperbole).
Seriously, things have gotten pretty bad on the blasphemy front. I continue to not care about what people believe personally, only the actions those beliefs mandate, and that is the only way you can “respect” a belief: by letting it exist in a self-contained fashion, debatable but not legislatable.
Blasphemy laws, on the contrary, demand that those outside of a faith conform to its dogma. Attempts to reframe them in terms of respect and freedom would be laughable if they weren’t so effective.
These are not relics of an ancient past. Alexander Aan, Sanal Edamaruku, Alber Saber, the Pakistani Christian girl, Rimsah Masihj, who was framed for burning the Quran, Asia Bibi. These have all been in the past year, and there are many, many more. All of this, and the Arab League is still at the UN asking that blasphemy be outlawed around the world.
And this doesn’t just happen in the Middle East or dictatorships. The European Union has ominously said they are “strongly committing to take further measures” to work for “full respect of religion”, which could mean anything from awareness campaigns to full on blasphemy laws like those that exist already in many European countries. Look at what happened to Pussy Riot in Russia, which is now discussing blasphemy laws to protect the power of the Orthodox church. Ireland made blasphemy against the law… in 2010. Even in the birthplace of democracy, Greece, a man was just arrested for making a Pastafarian parody (a rather clever one, at that) of a famous Greek Orthodox saint.
These sorts of things happen all the time, even today. Freedom cannot exist when certain ideas are off limits for criticism. Theocracy and democracy cannot meaningfully exist in concert and today is a day to reflect on that.