Yes, we still need Blasphemy Day

By Matthew Bulger (originally posted on TheHumanist.com)

Today is International Blasphemy Day, a day when millions of atheists, humanists, agnostics, and nontheists are encouraged to openly criticize religious teachings that they disagree with and to protest the continued existence of blasphemy laws around the world.

I’ve personally celebrated Blasphemy Day for years, since the time back in my college days when my humanist campus group organized an event where students could use a microphone to proclaim their own blasphemous messages across campus. While roughly half of the spoken criticisms focused on religious teachings (the other half instead being directed at various sports and entertainment figures and their apparent lack of talent) the event was a great way for nontheists to finally say what they felt about religious ideology without fear of retribution.

This day couldn’t be more relevant considering the current international religious freedom landscape. Over the past year there have been countless cases of discrimination and outright violence against religious minorities and nontheists, including the public killings of four atheist bloggers in Bangladesh by a group of religious extremists. The killings have gotten so bad that Congress introduced two resolutions meant to address the growing problem of violence against religious and nonreligious minority groups.

The first of these resolutions, H. Res. 290, which was introduced with bipartisan support, calls for the repeal of blasphemy laws around the world and the freeing of those imprisoned under these laws, while H. Res. 396 focuses on Bangladesh and the plight of religious minorities. In addition, the American Humanist Association has met with Ambassador David Saperstein, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, to discuss our concerns on behalf of humanists and nontheists, and the AHA’s lobbying team organized a series of well-attended congressional briefings on this topic with the help of other secular organizations.

But even with all of this hard work towards protection religious freedom, it’s important to note that blasphemy laws still affect millions of people around the world, with 22 percent of all countries maintaining blasphemy laws or policies. What’s even more concerning is the fact that nearly 75 percent of all human beings live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion and irreligion.

These policies are the cause of untold human suffering, whether as a result of government actions to uphold these policies or “vigilante justice” by religious extremists who believe they have the authority to enforce the law. While the AHA will continue to work with government officials to protect religious freedom, events like Blasphemy Day can show to legislators both here at home and around the world just how many people care about this issue and are willing to speak up. This sort of grassroots activism is just what’s needed for Congress to pass international religious freedom resolutions and motivate our diplomatic corps and our allies to make sure laws aren’t discriminatory against nontheists.

So take a moment to be blasphemous today. At the very least, it may result in a conversation with a co-worker or friend that is interested in your views on religion. At best, it may be the catalyst for change.

Matthew Bulger is the legislative associate for the American Humanist Association. He writes the On the Hill column for TheHumanist.com.

Even today, Canada still maintains a blasphemy law. For more, read CFI Canada's briefing.

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