Blasphemy Day: Your rights, use ’em or lose ’em

The 30th of September is International Blasphemy Day. Time for some god-hating, shall we?

Blasphemy can be considered as serving no purpose what so ever: it insults people and their god, it’s dividing people instead of bringing them together in peaceful coexistence. So knowing that, what’s wrong with blasphemy laws?

A lot.

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Yes, it’s freedom of speech even if it’s offensive to you

First of all offense is taken, not given. But even if the intent of the expression is undoubtedly clear, that it doesn’t even serve the purpose of humour, but the mere spread of discontent, even then it is unquestionably the exercise freedom of speech. There is the difference between the statement that Jesus was obviously married since he always hung around his friends, never had any money and died in a cave; and that the prophet Mohammed was a child abuser. One is intended to make for a good evening laugh between friends, the other makes for an interesting Christmas discussion with your “no-but-I’m-not-a-nationalist” uncle who wants to protect the Christian Occident. Both should still be protected by the arbitrary infringement by government.

A pluralistic society needs discussion, criticism and polemic. A free society doesn’t prevent a person from speaking, but confronts statements on the free market of ideas. That’s the adult way of dealing with the problem. A child on the other hand would preferably have someone banned by force from expressing them.

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Religious institutions need criticism and ridicule more than anyone else

I’m not all for the “We need a modern Catholic Church to save it” approach, the less Catholic Church the better. But there is a point in having religious leaders exposed to vial criticism: the more they get, the more they tend to address the rightful objections of their faith. If they don’t, they will be doomed to perish in the long run (though that can be a pretty long run, some have been around for quite a bit, and in countries where access to information is almost inexistant, they keep their customers).


Censoring is risky business

If you’re not a fan of freedom of speech, let me say that it’s not even that blasphemy laws are all so precise. There is no way to interpret them correctly, a bit like the article in the French Penal Code about terrorism, stating that “any threat to the institutions of the Republic” will be subject of prosecution. What you make of such a law is up to the judge. That is why they are no serious component of the Rule of Law, they are up too much to the discretion of a politicised judge, and they punish those who are already frightened, oppressed and who self-censored themselves for decades.

Censoring is risky, since you ultimately never stop. What should or shouldn’t be offensive to whom is up to the legislator, it’s mob rule at best and tyranny at worst. If we look at what countries criminalise apostasy or blasphemy for now, we’d get this:


Nobody says that this map can’t go greener. Rights have to be endorsed and confirmed all the time, their defence is endless and this is particularly true for freedom of speech.

You either defend your free speech or live long enough to see yourself censored. Use ’em or lose ’em, that’s how your rights work.

Related article: How the free market regulates hate speech

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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