Nations Must Repeal Blasphemy Laws

Huff Post: What did the terrorist attacks against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the kosher supermarket in Paris share with the flogging of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi in Jeddah last month? Each was an assault on freedom of conscience, religion, or belief. Moreover, in the Charlie Hebdo and Badawi cases, those responsible denied their victims the right to speak freely about religion because, in their view, such critics are blasphemers who insult religion and must be punished.

People naturally should try to do their utmost to honor and uphold each other’s inherent dignity as fellow human beings and respect their most cherished beliefs. But when this laudable idea is rejected by a demand that perceived transgressors be silenced by force — including even murder and torture — rather than engaged through debate and discussion, the line has been crossed from freedom to coercion.

As the Badawi case illustrates, it is not just private individuals and groups which cross that line. Governments also label and punish certain speech by enforcing blasphemy laws, some of which carry the death penalty. In so doing, they embolden citizens to commit bloodshed against alleged blasphemers.

In the face of this assault on human rights and dignity, the world community must confront these abusive laws and the horrific acts they unleash, pressing offending nations to repeal these statutes and release people imprisoned because of them.

As Badawi can attest, one such nation is Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom enthrones its own interpretation of Sunni Islam and bans the public expression of any other religious belief. Dissenters may be charged with offenses ranging from apostasy to blasphemy.

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