Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Recent Blasphemy Stories

A few stories involving blasphemy have caught my eye over the past month.

*  Religion Clause Blog has a story about a British citizen of Pakistani origin named Muhammad Asghar who has been convicted and sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy.  The man wrote letters to several people, including police, claiming to be a prophet.  The man has a history of mental illness.  According to the report, Pakistan has a de facto moratorium on the death penalty and so an actual execution is unlikely (his conviction is also the subject of an appeal).

Volokh Conspiracy discusses a story from The Guardian about a Greek man who has been convicted of blasphemy and sentenced to 10 months in prison for comparing a revered priest to a pasta dish on a Facebook page.  The conviction is also under appeal.

*  A very interesting article in The New York Times about Penguin Books India pulping its entire run of a scholarly book about Hinduism in response to a lawsuit claiming the book was "malicious", "dirty", and "perverse."  The decision is seen as a sign of concession to growing right-wing radicalism in the country.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Criminal Code of Canada Section 365: Witchcraft & Fortune-Telling

Here is the text of Section 365 of the Criminal Code of Canada.  The law is still valid, and is the subject of the research paper I'm currently working on.

Criminal Code of Canada  (valid as of Feb. 11, 2014)

Pretending to practise witchcraft, etc.
365. Every one who fraudulently

(a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
(b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
(c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found, 

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

As an aside, I especially like the phrase "crafty science", as I've never seen that before.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Brazil, Blasphemy, and Free Speech: Why the United States Must Maintain Strong Freedom of Expression Protections in Spite of International Pressure to Punish Anti-Religious Hate Speech"

Stuart Vincent Campbell, Brazil, Blasphemy, and Free Speech: Why the United States Must Maintain Strong Freedom of Expression Protections in Spite of International Pressure to Punish Anti-Religious Hate Speech (unpublished working paper available on SSRN).

This interesting paper is written in the context of the controversy and protests created by the dissemination of the Innocence of Muslims video and the resulting calls from some quarters for the United States to take aggressive action to forbid anti-religious speech.  Campbell accurately notes that those opposed to blasphemy laws often point to countries like Pakistan as examples of the harm such laws cause.  However, "[i]nstead of looking to small homogenous nations in the Middle East that bear almost no cultural or legal resemblance to the United States, this note turns to the empirical example of Brazil--a large heterogeneous democracy that in some ways bears a surprising cultural and historical resemblance to the United States." (p. 3)

The paper provides good background on the Innocence of Muslims video (pp. 5-6) and an overview of the history of blasphemy laws in the U.S. (pp. 11-15) before moving on to what I consider the most useful aspect of the paper: a discussion of how blasphemy laws are used in Brazil.  Campbell argues that although Brazil has a constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, judges allow blasphemy laws to operate by always framing the issue as the need to balance the right to freedom of speech against the right to freedom of religion.  "Brazil suppresses blasphemous speech not based on the desire to establish a state religion, but rather based on legal principles that allow judges to prioritize religious respect and de-prioritize 'offensive' speech."  (p. 4)  Constitutional interpretation is very different in Brazil than in the U.S., Campbell explains, and the result is that much speech is suppressed in a problematic way.  Campbell takes a strong position against the adoption of blasphemy or blasphemy-like laws in the United States.

This is the first paper I've seen on how blasphemy laws operate in Brazil, and it serves as a good addition to the literature.