Outlaw "Contempt of Religions"?

Muslim scholars are petitioning the UN to outlaw “contempt of religion.” Does this further the American ideals of liberty of conscience, religious freedoms, and human rights? I ague: NO.
Muslim scholars are petitioning the UN to outlaw “contempt of religion.” Does this further the American ideals of liberty of conscience, religious freedom, and human rights? I argue: NO!

I urge people to be polite and respectful in the public square - especially toward the deeply held religious commitments of others. However, enforcing such requirements by law crosses a line into the realm of tyranny. America’s early founders were very opposed to blasphemy and wrestled with similar issues and gave up prosecuting “speech crimes” early on. Court records show that a handful of individuals were prosecuted for cursing God or using using his name in vain. However, there were obviously many more violations than prosecutions for good reasons. (History of Blasphemy Laws in the U.S.)

  • Several problems with laws of this nature exist:

  • The first relates to enforceability. When the conscience of large numbers of people see no wrong in a word, phrase or idea; how can they be expected to uphold a protective law either in public or in secret… think of “prohibition.” Too many thought alcohol was ok and it was too easy to get for law enforcement to stay on top of its control. Being contemptuous of religion would be infinitely harder to enforce. Would every “OMG” land someone in jail? Though out of public courtesy I might not disparage Mohamed or Buda, what if I spoke my mind in a private conversation that was recorded? Should I be prosecuted?

  • Secondly, legal protection of “religious” concerns places government entities in charge of interpreting religious tenants. To insure that a particular religion was not shown contempt, the government would either have to decide for itself “what was contemptuous to that religion” or it would have to give a particular entity authority to define that religion. However, religious perspectives are diverse… and generally private. In America, we wisely decided that government would protect the right of all people to think, speak, write, and act in accord with their conscience regardless of the offense it placed on others, and this offense was to be absorbed by citizens of character who would not resort to violence.

Showing “contempt for religion” may be inappropriate in certain situations, but criminalizing it leads to tyranny. Freedom loving people must view the society as a place of debate in which ideas are expressed in many forms. Government should stay out of these discussions of theology and ideology. Its role is not to stop philosophic expressors, but to stop physical aggressors.

Where does this leave Christians? It calls them to the heart of both public and private debate to present arguments and lifestyles that inspire and shape the consciences of others. We are called to disciple, not control the nations. The Muslim scholars attempting to protect their religion by seeking an international ban on “contempt for religion” don’t understand the ramifications of their efforts. Submitting their own as well as all other religions of the world to the protection of diverse governments will ultimately serve to undermine the worship they seek to save.
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