Would you want to live in a world where your thoughts and speech are punishable by death? Well, this very grim prospect is the reality of millions of people living in countries with blasphemy laws. Blasphemy refers to speech that insults or disagrees with a religion and its teachings. Since 2009, September 30 is marked by the Center of Inquiry as International Blasphemy Rights Day to raise awareness for the cruel blasphemy laws practiced in over 69 countries.
History of International Blasphemy Rights Day
On 30 September 2005, a Danish newspaper named “Jyllands-Posten” posted 12 editorial cartoons of Muhammad, the founder of Islam. The move, justified by the newspaper as an attempt to criticize Islamic censorship, angered prominent Danish-Muslim groups. After a failed court case and lack of support from the government, a congregation of Danish imams, led by Ahmed Akkari visited the Middle East to drum up support for the cause.
After months of hysteria and manufactured lies, Ahmed Akkari sought enough support from Muslim-majority nations to launch a movement against the Danish government. The protests reached far and wide and had major international implications. Danish embassies around the world were bombed and over 100 people, including the protestors, were killed.
This stunning act of religious intolerance shook the world and triggered many debates about freedom of speech. Years after the matter settled down, Ronald A. Lindsay, CEO of the Center for Inquiry, was presented with the idea of honoring the right to free speech on the anniversary of the Danish article. The idea was accepted and since 2009, every September 30 is celebrated as International Blasphemy Rights Day.
It is important to clear the air on the intent of this day. International Blasphemy Rights Day is observed in defense of free speech, not in support of ridiculing a particular religious belief. Blasphemy laws violate the tenets of our collective freedom. International Blasphemy Rights Day is observed in reaffirmation of our belief that no religion or sect is beyond criticism.
International Blasphemy Rights Day timeline
Centuries after its colonization by England, Australia enacts the first constitutional ‘Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act’ in New South Wales.
On September 30, 2005, Danish newspaper “Jyllands-Posten” publishes a caricature of Mohammad, triggering worldwide protests.
To defend freedom of speech, the Center for Inquiry honors September 30 as International Blasphemy Rights Day.
The Danish parliament votes to repeal blasphemy laws in practice since 1866.
International Blasphemy Rights Day FAQs
How many countries have blasphemy laws?
A report by the National Secular Society concluded that there are over 69 countries that practice blasphemy laws. This came in addition to the Freedom of Thought Report in 2019, which found that in six of these countries, blasphemy is punishable by death.
Is blasphemy punishable in the U.S.?
The majority of 19th-century blasphemy laws in the U.S. have been wiped out and deemed unconstitutional. In 2009 “The New York Times” reported that laws regarding blasphemy are still prevalent in the states of Wyoming, Michigan, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Massachusetts.
Which country has the worst blasphemy laws?
Iran and Pakistan top the list with the most brutal blasphemy laws. There, the alleged blasphemers can face execution by hanging or prolonged imprisonment.
How to celebrate International Blasphemy Rights Day
Raise awareness about the issue
Many countries have constitutional blasphemy laws. In many places, a blasphemous comment or speech is punishable by death. And then there are extra-judicial killings. On September 30, educate as many people as you can about the grim statistics of blasphemy-related casualties.
Create a social media campaign
The right to speech is critical to freedom. As we navigate life in these precarious times, we cannot take our freedom of speech for granted. Post your personal thoughts and feelings on social media with the hashtag #InternationalBlasphemyRightsDay.
Promote open dialogue
Have an open dialogue with the people you disagree with. Be it politics, lifestyle choices, or food preferences, the diversity of thought and the freedom to express it must be celebrated.
5 Blasphemy Laws That Will Blow Your Mind
Afghanistan prohibits blasphemy under Sharia law and the perpetrator can be sentenced to execution by hanging.
Trespassing a burial ground or defiling a place of worship in Pakistan is punishable by imprisonment.
Criticizing the Islamic government or insulting Islam is punishable by death under the Islamic theocracy of Iran.
Scorning any of the Prophets is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years in Jordan.
Blasphemy is punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment in Qatar.
Why We Observe International Blasphemy Rights Day
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
Reiterating the words of the great Martin Luther King Jr., human beings everywhere are “tied in a single garment of destiny.” Turning our heads away from the grave injustices that others face can be catastrophic. It is our moral imperative to raise our voices against the injustices happening thousands of miles away from us.
Blasphemy laws deserve global condemnation
It is our shared belief that no religion is beyond criticism. The freedom to voice our opinions against discrimination and injustice cannot be threatened. Yet, this is the reality of millions of people. By coming together on September 30, we send an astounding rejection to the enablers of blasphemy laws everywhere.
Change is possible
Resistance to oppressive policies is never futile. There has been a tremendous social change in the last decade alone. We believe we will one day see a future free of blasphemy laws, and that is why we observe International Blasphemy Rights Day.
International Blasphemy Rights Day dates