Friday, July 8, 2011

"Blasphemy" (Columbia Law Review Note)

Student Note, Blasphemy, 70 Colum. L. Rev 694 (1970).

This is a thorough, well-researched history of blasphemy in England and the United States, written with the goal of examining whether State-level blasphemy laws are constitutional under the First Amendment. In order to answer this question, the anonymous author attempts to set forth the original and current purposes of blasphemy prohibitions to decide whether those purposes are religious or secular. Several prominent English blasphemy cases are discussed, including Taylor's Case, Woolston, Ramsay, Cowan, and Gott (this article was written prior to the prosecution of Kirkup's The Love That Dares to Speak Its Name in the late 70s). After examining these cases, the author concludes that "English history provides no single determinative rationale for blasphemy laws. ... [T]he cases illustrate reliance on almost every conceivable principle." (p. 702). Next, the author examines a handful of major American blasphemy cases, such as Ruggles, Updegraph, Chandler, Kneeland, and Mockus. The final section of the article is a long and detailed discussion of how blasphemy laws should fare under the Free Exercise, Establishment, and Free Speech clauses of the Constitution. This section is probably of less use to modern scholars, given how Supreme Court doctrine in these areas has changed in the past 40 years. In a brief conclusion, the author writes that "Blasphemy laws are one of the last remnants of an established church, and in protecting the religious from verbal affront, they significantly curtail the freedom of expression of others." (p. 733)

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