by: John Tyrrell
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Last week, Iceland's parliament, removed its 1940 law against blasphemy from the books. The bill cancelling the old law stated that it is “essential in a free society that the public can express themselves without fear of punishment”.
The elimination of the old law was supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, a church to which some 80% of Iceland's Christians belong to (at least nominally). This Church took the enlightened position that "any legislative powers limiting freedom of expression in this way is at variance with modern-day attitudes towards human rights".
Three other churches opposed the changes, including, of course, the Catholics. The Catholic position was: "Should freedom of expression go so far as to mean that the identity of a person of faith can be freely insulted, then personal freedom - as individuals or groups - is undermined."
It would seem that the Catholic Church deliberately confuses the idea of insulting an individual and criticizing a religious belief. There is a profound difference, and laws against blasphemy are designed to protect belief, not individuals. Rather laws against blasphemy are an attack to the rights of an individual to think and to exercise free speech.
In Europe, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Greece still have blasphemy laws on the books. In addition, laws against blasphemous libel still exist in some Australian states, Northern Ireland, New Zealand, and Canada.
All these countries* would do well to follow the example set by Iceland.
* I have ignored the Islamic world in this comment, much of which has draconian laws against blasphemy - and which, unlike the Western world, actually enforces those laws. Until we get rid of our unenforced blasphemy laws, historically designed to protect against criticism of Christian beliefs, our case for arguing against laws designed to protect against criticism of Islamic beliefs is undermined.
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