Worldwide punishment for nonbelief, blasphemy, and apostasy

December 11, 2013 • 11:28 am

Surprise! Atheists are discriminated against—legally.  Well, we probably knew that about countries like Bangladesh, but it’s been documented by an official survey, reported in Sunday’s New York Times, “Atheists face death in 13 countries, global discrimination: study.” The survey is by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), and you can find their own summary here.  And you can find the entire 244-page IHEU report, “Freedom of thought 2013” free at the link. The bulk of the report is a country-by-country survey of how much freedom of belief (and nonbelief) there is, but there’s also a 19-page preface that you should read.

First the bad news from the full report (in fact, it’s all bad news):

Our results show that the overwhelming majority of countries fail to respect the rights of atheists and freethinkers. There are laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, revoke their right to citizenship,restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents. In the worst cases, the state denies the rightsof atheists to exist, or seeks total control over their beliefs and actions.

The most striking data show that 13 countries mandate the death penalty for people who “either openly espouse atheism or reject the official state religion.”

Guess what that religion is?

Yep, it’s Islam—in all 13 countries. But it’s not the result of religion! No, it’s due to colonial oppression; it’s all political. In fact, I’d like to see someone pin this obvious violation of freedom of thought or speech on something other than religion itself, especially because it occurs only in Islamic countries. I’ve put the country names below in bold.

This is from the report:

In some countries, it is illegal to be an atheist. For example, every citizen of the Maldives is required to be a Muslim and the penalty for leaving Islam is death. Many other countries, while not outlawing people of different religions, or no religion, forbid leaving the state religion. And in these countries the punishment for apostasy—leaving the faith—is often death. In fact, 19 countries punish their citizens for apostasy, and in 12 of those countries it is punishable by death. Pakistan doesn’t have a death sentence for apostasy but it does for blasphemy, and the threshold for ‘blasphemy’ can very low; so in effect you can be put to death for expressing atheism in 13 countries.

More common than crimes relating to simply being an atheist, are the criminal measures against expressing atheist beliefs. Many countries have blasphemy laws that outlaw
criticism of protected religions or religious figures and institutions. For example, Pakistan has prosecuted more than a thousand people for blasphemy since introducing its current anti-blasphemy laws in 1988. And in the month of publication of this report, December 2013, the highest Islamic court in Pakistan declared that life imprisonment was no longer an acceptable punishment for blasphemy: only death would fit the crime of insulting Islam and its prophet.

The crime of criticizing a religion is not always called blasphemy; sometimes it is categorized as hate speech (even when it falls well below any sensible standard of actually inciting hatred or violence) because it supposedly insults the followers of a religion. These crimes—of expressing ‘blasphemy’ or offending religious feelings—are still a crime in 55 countries, can mean prison in 39 of those countries, and are punishable by death in six countries. In addition, most of the twelve countries which punish apostasy with death also sometimes treat ‘blasphemy’ as evidence of apostasy.

And from the IHEU summary:

In line with their words, several possibly unexpected nations come out rather badly on the scale of five classifications — which range upward in severity from “Free and Equal”, through “Mostly Satisfactory”, “Systemic Discrimination”, “Severe Discrimination”, to “Grave Violations”.

Four western countries are rated “Severe” because they can jail people for breaking laws prohibiting ‘blasphemy’ and other free speech on religion.

Those countries are Iceland (a sentence of jail for up to 3 months), Denmark (up to 4 months), New Zealand (up to a year), Poland (up to two years), Germany (up to three years) and Greece (up to three years). Jail time could be handed to someone who simply “blasphemes God” in the case of Greece, or “insults the content of other’s religious faith” in the case of Germany.

The apostasy laws violate article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes  freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

And anti-religious “hate speech” (or nearly all “hate speech”) violates freedom of expression. There is no justification for outlawing the criticism of religion, and it’s unconscionable that countries like Denmark, Iceland, Poland, Germany, New Zealand, and Greece, can jail you for “blaspheming God.” If you thought places like Iceland and Denmark were progressive, think again. And Germany, really—three years for “insulting someone’s religious faith?  I’d much rather live in a country where I can be called a “dirty Jew” (as I have been) than one in which you can’t offend anyone’s tender sentiments.

As for the U.S. (pp. 105-109 in the report), we get a “mostly satisfactory” rating, but it’s not perfect because of religious exemptions from laws (not just medical, either), and repeated violations of the Constitutional requirement for separation of church and state.

h/t: Greg Mayer

129 thoughts on “Worldwide punishment for nonbelief, blasphemy, and apostasy

  1. “Yep, it’s Islam”

    I posted about this on Facebook only to learn from a friend that I’m just biased and the real reason for this is colonialism.


    1. I was in Rome recently. A friend had some tshirts made up for a few people to wear. The shirt says: Pork O’Deal…Lard Cheeses.

      For those Non-Italian speakers out there porco dio means “Bloody Hell” or “Goddamn it” or “Pig God”.

      This shirt is a play on words (not my invention) but fun nonetheless.

      We decided to wear the shirt to St. Peter’s Square. Buddy pulls out his camera and sets it up. Old School selfies (using a timer) we snapped a few pics.

      I had the “brilliant” idea to take a few more but this time we give the Vatican the bird (middle fingers). We take a couple more and put our coats back on…

      “Cops are coming.”

      “Yeah, sure.”

      “No really cops are coming.”

      Within seconds the State Police show up and are asking us a billion questions. They call for back-up and ask the back up to bring the “paddy wagon”.

      “Why a pig? What’s the meaning of the shirt? Why the middle finger?”

      We explained that I owned a butcher shop in the United States and that we were flipping off the “lines because they were so long…”

      Initially, they weren’t buying it. Why should they, we were lying. They took my friend’s camera and deleted the images of us flipping off the Vatican. Without asking. Just started to “cancel” the pictures they didn’t like.

      “Code 18 cleared. Stand-down.”

      We were allowed to leave. They followed us for almost 1/2 a mile, practically to the end of the road.

      Not sure where Italy is in this report (I am going to look it up)but this seems a little more than I can stomach. I could see if it had been Vatican police – Swiss Guards – it wasn’t. It was the State Police. I could see if we were doing that INSIDE the church. We were outside in the middle of the square. For those of you not familiar with it, it is HUGE.


      1. Wow, well now I know how to get the attention of the Carabinieri maybe. They have the nicest uniforms. 🙂

        1. Yeah…. Snort is right. I felt, actually, we felt like we got off easy. My friend is from Rome but that didn’t seem to help any…

          Can’t wait to go back with an army of middle finger!

      2. They took my friend’s camera and deleted the images of us flipping off the Vatican. Without asking. Just started to “cancel” the pictures they didn’t like.

        Carry multiple cards ; swap frequently.

        1. They took my friend’s camera and deleted the images of us flipping off the Vatican. Without asking. Just started to “cancel” the pictures they didn’t like.

          Carry multiple cards ; swap frequently.

          Actually, I wonder if there are people making cameras with an integrated WiFi service that would back the photo contents up to some other device. It’s certainly not beyond the wit of man (chron script checking the DCIM folder at regular intervals and copying new files to the remote device ; NIS or Samba mount points perhaps. Actually, Bluetooth would probably be good enough for range.)
          I’ve got a vague memory of seeing news of such a device – specifically for spreading evidence of police malpractice.
          And indeed, it seems that Samsung are putting this feature into their last year or so of camera models, calling it AutoBackup and not mentioning this sort of use of it. In an attack of small world syndrome, we got one such for the step-daughter last week (New Year pressie, of course).

          1. I know wifi cameras exist but you’d need to have wifi where you are. Another option is create a hot spot with your phone and connect the camera to that.

            All my phone pictures automatically upload to dropbox.

          2. Another option is create a hot spot with your phone and connect the camera to that.

            Or – if you’ve got a tablet or laptop, create a hotspot with that and have someone who is keeping quiet and out of the way carry that.
            With a modicum of planning, you could set this sort of thing up in advance. Which probably constitutes “conspiracy”, though what it’s a conspiracy to do is a bit more moot.
            Running rings around Plod like this tends to get Plod very annoyed when he’s disrupting civil liberties like this. You can just hear my sympathy for Plod oozing, can’t you?

          3. Whereas in Britain the police generally just club you unconscious. Or club you to death. Big difference.

          4. I saw one of the technology sites making the classic mistake of referring to “Write-Only Memory” yesterday. Could do with some of that. Or a hack to the phone’s OS to make it look as if it’s got WOM in it.

        2. If you don’t use the card after the deletion, you can usually recover everything with disc recovery programs as well. 🙂

          1. Yeah, that works too – IF they let you keep the card. Which since they’re generally acting illegally (and sometimes know it), you can’t be sure of.

    2. Well, maybe the most amusing answer to the “colonialism” charge would be:

      “You’re absolutely right. Colonialism and empire-imposition is exactly the reason for this. Ever since the 600s-800s colonial expansion of Islam…”

      1. You beat me to it.

        Ironic that islam is so keen on punishing apostasy, given that by definition nearly all moslems are themselves apostates or descended from apostates.

      1. “Smash socieites, collaborate with bastards, what do you get?”

        Spain? Mexico? South Africa? India? Isn’t the planet covered with countries that have been, at one time or another, had one population overrun by another population?

        The fact remains that there are 13 countries where apostasy and atheism can land you on the executioner’s block. Attributing that on colonization is absurd.

          1. It is a simple matter, Keith. Make a list of countries that have been colonized or other wise taken over by foreign powers. It will be a very long list, much longer than 13. Make another list of countries where death is mandated for atheists and apostates. The death mandate is made only for countries with Islamic law in place. Most of the colonized/dominated countries don’t mandate death for apostates. You’re being delusional if you can’t see religious doctrine as central to the difference.

          2. I did say *part*. But even on your own terms, that’s just a statement of a trend. Why does it occur? Are there places which have not been subject to (recent) vicious colonialism which do not show this pattern? Actually, yes: Vietnam, to pick one. But there were (on both sides of the civil war) vicious bastards being supported by both the colonial powers, so it is actually fairly similar; the manifestation there was largely secular, but so? latches on to tribalism and urban/rural maybe.

          3. I have no idea what you are trying to say in that paragraph about Vietnam.

            It seems a good example of a colonized country, riven by war and invasion for generations, but lacking that magic ingredient, Islam as the dominant faith. And, unless I’m wrong, non-believers are not subject to execution for their non belief in Vietnam.

  2. If it is “just” colonialism and not religion, why did those countries not abolish such laws after independence? Apparently all other countries have done so. No, the whole “colonialism” story does not make any sense.

    1. If it was just colonialism, the list would be a lot longer.

      Finding countries that were western colonies and show some bad behavior is easy. At some point, the European nations had troops just about everywhere on the globe. Its explaining the next door neighbor countries that were colonies and *don’t* show the same bad behavior that kills the correlation.

      1. Mind you they did. You have heard about Crusaders; the Portuguese, Dutch,and British did it in Asia who were Buddhists and Spaniards did that in Latin America. That’s the way they spread Christianity in Rome. Now they talk about spreading God’s good word.

  3. I live in Germany and I never heard of this. I have seen people on television say all kinds of things about religion either in discussion or in a comedy bit. Most of them where quite insulting to religion. I think this is one of those laws nobody knows about and is actually never enforced

    1. I don’t think this is enforced at all in Germany.

      It’s bad enough that this law exists at all, though. Otoh, the legal justification for this law is not “blasphemy” but prevention of riots & such.

      Usually that law is being pulled out of the drawer by some politician who wants to land some popularity blitz – often citing blasphemy, of course. Stoiber comes to mind …

      1. I don’t think this is enforced at all in Germany.

        Not being enforced is not the same as not existing.

        1. Yep, that’s why I said “it’s bad enough” … however, I can’t help but see a qualitative difference between a law which penalises blasphemy and a law which explicitly protects freedom of speech (including blasphemy) up to the point where the public peace is threatened. For instance, I can safely stand in front of the Cologne Cathedral and recite Dawkins, but if I’d drop in on a catholic (or any other religious) funeral, grinding up the mourners/believers until they start to get aggressive, I’ll probably be in conflict with that law.
          Of course, there are no sharp boundaries here – during the Mohammed cartoon debate, a German catholic politician suggested that the artists should be punished for blasphemy. That’s what I’d call a publicity blitz (in particular as that politician was from deeply catholic Bavaria).

    2. The Netherlands just have abandoned a similar law. It always has been a dead letter and especially since this author

      “was acquitted by the High Council”
      This quote

      “In Nader tot U he describes the narrator’s love-making to God, a visitor to his house incarnated in a one-year-old mouse-grey donkey.”
      refers to anal animal sex.

      To call this “Severe” shows USA bias imo. The same for the country where I live, Suriname. As an atheist I feel a lot safer than lots of fellow atheists in the US of A.
      So frankly I think the methodology of this report s***s.

    3. Like wise New Zealand – Never heard of such a law – let alone heard of it enforced. The country has to be one of the most secular I have ever lived (thank god)

      1. I second that. I’ve lived here (NZ) 50 years and never heard of it. It would be interesting to know when the law was passed, I suspect it’s just some old law that’s still on the books but everyone’s forgotten about. Like the (reputed) one that says if you urinate in public you must do so on the offside wheel of your wagon.

        Certainly if anyone was prosecuted for blasphemy it would cause universal derision and condemnation here. If (say) someone was to stand up in a church and start cursing God, they might get charged with ‘creating a disturbance’ or some other low-level ‘public order’ offence, but never blasphemy. Although we don’t necessarily have laws mandating the separation of church and state, the overwhelming number of Kiwis would regard that principle as vitally important and would be highly dismayed at any suggestion of the public law enforcing any religious observance.

        1. In the UK, there was a law until not so long ago that stipulated that a man waving a red flag (a red lantern at night) had to run in front of every motor vehicle…

        2. They are probably all old laws that people have forgotten about since they haven’t been enforced in decades. Probably time to call attention to them and get them removed, now that there is a report you can reference.

          Canada is slowly getting out from under the Catholic yoke. Provinces decide not to fund catholic schools, but it takes a long time. I’m hoping the tide will suddenly turn and we get that stuff removed.

  4. The blasphemy law is often debated and many people oppose it here in Denmark including yours truly. We had a minor incident in 2005 where the law was heavily discussed, but alas it survived.

    There has been no convictions since 1938 where it was a case of anti-semitic propaganda. The last time anyone was charged was in 1971.

    It is an old and completely obsolete piece of legislation that no one respects or complies with and yet we’re struggling to get rid of it. Old habbits die hard, I guess.

  5. For what it’s worth, the most recent (and only) conviction for blasphemy here in Denmark was bacl in 1938 when an anti-Semitic group was sentenced.

    1. Blasphemous libel is on the books in New Zealand but there are a couple of qualifications in the statute:
      (a) “It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject”, and
      (b) any prosecution requires the leave of the Attorney-General.

      Wikipedia reports that the last, and only, prosecution was that of John Glover, publisher of the newspaper “The Maoriland Worker” in 1922 for publishing Siegfried Sassoon’s ‘Stand-to: Good Friday Morning’:

      O Jesus, send me a wound to-day,
      And I’ll believe in Your bread and wine,
      And get my bloody old sins washed white!

      He was found not guilty. The Attorney-General has declined requests to prosecute on 2 occasions in the last decade or so (including for airing an episode of South Park featuring a menstruating Virgin Mary statue) on the grounds of free speech as the right to freedom of expression is protected within New Zealand’s Bill of Rights Act 1990.

      Still, not good to retain this as a crime in a country heading seriously down the atheist route: 2013 census reports about 40% +/-2% reporting “no religion” depending on how you count – but up over 8% since the 2006 census.

      1. Agreed that this report doesn’t seem to have done much by way of analysis of whether other legislation (such as NZ’s Bill of Rights Act) effectively neuters discriminatory legislation so that it no longer has any practical effect. To describe something that never happens as “severe” seems a little OTT to me.

  6. Agree that blasphemy laws on the books in Western countries are never enforced.

    Interesting that all of the countries that offer you death for atheism or blasphemy or apostasy are Islamic. Especially so in view of the fact that it is precisely those countries that are trying to limit free speech everywhere by constantly urging the UN to pass a resolution making religion immune from criticism, and any criticism punishable. And this from countries where Christians and Jews are either proscribed or persecuted.

    The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, made up of 57 Muslim countries, (Islamophobia being a concept made up by the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1990s) has released its annual “Islamophobia” report, the primary goal of which is to pressure the West into passing laws outlawing “negative stereotyping of Islam.”

    It’s a frontal assault on free speech.

  7. In the U.S., any profession of non belief (however slight) is transmogrified by right-wing politicians, religious leaders, and pundits into ‘persecution of Christians’. Even if you say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” you’re considered worse than Nero. It’s becoming truly ludicrous.

  8. Where is the UK in this? A country where atheism is no bar to high office, but where hate speech and (in Scotland) sectarian speech laws are an accident waiting to happen.

    And where the London School of Economics definition of Islamophobia is so broad that if ever taken at face value it could be applied to any criticism of any practice specific to Islam, like the extreme gender asymmetry of religious divorce law.

  9. “Mamas, don’t let your godless babies grow up and with their mouths and tee – shirts travel to so, so many bashing states.

    Don’t let ’em pick apart ‘scriptures’ and drive them old imams. Make ’em be docile and dominion – lawyers and such.”

    B.I.G., Big Boots – Wearing – in – Iowa today!


    ps: Gotta sign off and go get warned all three o’mine. One + his clan leave truly .shortly. for one o’ those countries !

  10. I agree with Robert G. Ingersoll that if anyone is to be guilty of blasphemy, it is the god believers. They tells us impossible things about their god. We only point this out and if their gods were to magically appear, I think they would thank the atheists for standing up for them when they didn’t exist!

  11. In 2011 a german blogger called the Catholic Church “Kinderficker-Sekte” which means “child-fucker sect”. He was charged with violation of the blasphemy paragraph. However he was not convicted by the court. The state had to cover his costs.
    It’s a disgrace that there is such a law in Germany.

  12. America is about the 35th least religious country, between Mexico and Lithuania. (

    Good grief. Even Uruguay nearly doubles the number of irreligious, and they just legalized cannabis. Good for them.

    At least no religion is in third place in America, soon to overtake the Catholics. Oh happy thoughts.

  13. Four western countries are rated “Severe” because they can jail people for breaking laws prohibiting ‘blasphemy’ and other free speech on religion.

    Those countries are Iceland (a sentence of jail for up to 3 months), Denmark (up to 4 months), New Zealand (up to a year), Poland (up to two years), Germany (up to three years) and Greece (up to three years).

    Yet Denmark didn’t punish their Danish anti-Muslim cartoonists… I guess it goes only one way, blaspheming Islam is not blasphemy there. Sounds a bit hypocritical to me.

        1. It is only hypocrisy if Denmark punishes anti-nonMuslim blasphemy. It isn’t hypocrisy if they have (bad) laws on the books that are generally just ignored. Nor is it hypocrisy if the blasphemy laws were passed after the Danish cartoon incident (I surely hope not).

          Do you have any evidence that this is actual anti-Islamic hypocrisy?

  14. We really shouldn’t moan, guys. At least we don’t have it as bad as Christians in the USA, who can’t even put their 10 Commandments on the courtroom walls!

    1. Based on your comment, Ralph, I’m unable to tell how knowledgeable you are about recent US history regarding placement of religious iconography on public property — specifically in the era since Reagan took office as President (everything current politically/culturally in the US now is best understood viewed either pre-Reagan or post-Reagan). The following is a good example of our issues over the Establishment Clause. I hope secularists adopt this OK strategy in each and every instance where local, state, or federal officials insist on Christian privilege:

      GOP Hypocrisy Exposed: Oklahoma Lawmakers NOT OK With Satanic Monument

      1. Sorry the link didn’t embed; highlight/click ‘GOP Hypocrisy Exposed:… and you’ll be sent to the right place.

      2. Probably less informed than an ACLU lawyer, but more so than your average evangelical.

        Having said that, when it comes to pre-Reagan I’m on a par with the Evangelicals, as I was only 5 at the time and the occasional mentions of America in the news didn’t make much of an impression me back then.

        1. ‘Lord Hanuman … a perfect grammarian.’

          This is a dig at the 10 C’s monument erected in OK. The story I linked to doesn’t have a full-on photo of the monument face, but mentions several misspellings appear. They maybe got a cut-rate deal from a Tea Party carver.

          In the 90’s I lived in Boise. One of those 10 C monuments placed all over the country to promote the de Mille The Ten Commandment’s movie (iPad, can’t italicize just now) stood in a municipal park, and a brouhaha erupted when GOP zealots budgeted money to relocate it to a concrete slab smack dab in the middle of the state capitol grounds.

          Lawsuits were filed, protestor’s from both sides marched. A church stood opposite the statehouse on the corner of an intersection. Shortly before a scheduled court hearing on the matter the monument was placed on church property adjacent to the street, as close to the capitol building as it could get.

          The only people unhappy with the outcome was the zealot crowd. Thousands of drivers pass the monument every day and never notice the thing unless they mistake it for the church bulletin board.

          1. “… but mentions several misspellings appear. ”

            Oh, now I gotta find a shot of that! 😀

  15. Is the report remarkably up-to-date or did they just forget the Netherlands? The blasphemy law in the Netherlands was repealed last week.

    1. Just answered my own question by going and consulting the full report (OK – I should have done that first): it is indeed remarkably up-to-date, and records the repeal by the Dutch Senate.

        1. And she is now heading the Front National (now that her father Jean-Marie LePen has retired), an extreme right-wing political party which has been gaining a lot of support, alas…

    1. Yup – and John Key, who succeeded her as Prime Minister has also described himself as “not a believer”, although apparently he does attend (Christian) church sometimes. John Key has Jewish ancestry, but I don’t know whether he was brought up with any practicing religion.

      1. But there is a strong group of practicing Catholics in Cabinet including the Attorney-General and Minister of Finance.

  16. Here’s the German paragraph in full:

    StGB § 166 Beschimpfung von Bekenntnissen, Religionsgesellschaften und Weltanschauungsvereinigungen

    (1) Wer öffentlich oder durch Verbreiten von Schriften (§ 11 Abs. 3) den Inhalt des religiösen oder weltanschaulichen Bekenntnisses anderer in einer Weise beschimpft, die geeignet ist, den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören, wird mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe bestraft.

    (2) Ebenso wird bestraft, wer öffentlich oder durch Verbreiten von Schriften (§ 11 Abs. 3) eine im Inland bestehende Kirche oder andere Religionsgesellschaft oder Weltanschauungsvereinigung, ihre Einrichtungen oder Gebräuche in einer Weise beschimpft, die geeignet ist, den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören.

    Firstly, it says “three years OR A FINE”, and secondly, it only applies if the blasphemous act is able to break the public piece, (“die geeignet ist, den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören”) i.e. cause violent riots.

    It’s sort of a rubber paragraph, yes, and a disgrace, too. But that part above is, ahem, quoted out of context. I know of no case where someone has actually been jailed because of it (though there were some cases with fines, confiscations and prohibitions of material), and it’s heavily opposed and most times overruled by higher courts whenever anyone tries to play this card.

  17. There is no justification for outlawing the criticism of religion, and it’s unconscionable that countries like Denmark, Iceland, Poland, Germany, New Zealand, and Greece, can jail you for “blaspheming God.”

    As a citizen of New Zealand this is news to me.
    In fact I believe this is bullsh*t.

    I’ve ever heard of anybody being prosecuted, let alone jailed for criticising religion in this country during my half century on the planet. Religious criticism openly happens here all the time In addition, according to national census statistics, we have one of the most non-religious populations of all western democracies.

    1. It’s not bullshit, as you so impolitely say. Yes, nobody’s been prosecuted, so why do you have the laws. In addition, the degree of state intrusion into belief is rated “severe” in the report (read it before you start calling bullshit:

      From the report we find the following for N.Z:








        1. No it ain’t. See my comment above on what the law is. Practice may be different but the law is still lurking around.

        2. The first paragraph above from the report is wrong.

          I’m not clear on what you’re saying is wrong. That no one has been prosecuted for it? I don’t think anyone said that. That the law isn’t on the books? Secion 123 of the Crimes Act of 1961 clearly states, ” Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year who publishes any blasphemous libel.” It goes on to attach conditions, but the law is clearly on the books.

          1. Followed by, which for reasons of your own, you omit :

            (3)It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.

            Obviously this means any prosecution spins on definition of “libel”.

            A fact underscored by the fact that no prosecution for blasphemy has occurred in my lifetime. Any any attempt would almost certainly be laughed out of court.

            The tenor of the post suggests that NZ actively prosecutes for blasphemy.

          2. The tenor of the post suggests that NZ actively prosecutes for blasphemy.

            Nonsense, no one has suggested that. The fact is that there is a law on the books that states just what the original post said it does, while you seem to claim that there isn’t. So what if they don’t prosecute it? Grania Spingies points out one way such laws are harmful. There’s nothing special about NZ in this regard, the US does the same thing, as pointed out above.

          3. There is an unworkable clause involving Blasphemous libel.

            Who is libeled?

            God? Good luck proving that the object of libel even exists.

            In NZ you don’t, and I’d say can’t, get prosecuted for blasphemy. As for blasphemous “libel,“, it’s a nonsense. No one has ever been convicted of that either.

            For a little history read Gordon’s comment at

            As for my comment on the tenor of the post I don’t resile from it. It suggests NZ prosecutes for blasphemy…that NZ

            can jail you for “blaspheming God.”

            It can and does not.

    2. That’s the sort of lame-ass excuse that Western nations use when defending morally indefensible laws. They all say, well, no-one actually ever gets prosecuted here.

      Well, that may be entirely true. But here’s damage that it does: every time Islamic-block nations try to push through anti-blasphemy resolutions an the UN and meet some form of resistance from Western nations who proudly claim to support freedom of speech; they simply turn around and point out all the Western nations who retain these fatuous laws and pretty much pull the rug out from underneath the feet of the protesters.

      I too live in a country where blasphemy is criminalized: Ireland. Number of people prosecuted here in Ireland: zero. Actual damage done by the existence this law: who knows.

      I would strongly urge everyone to read this, the writer is, I should add, an American of the Christian persuasion:

      and this:

      1. As far as I can determine there has been no recent attempt to repeal the blaspemous libel provisions in NZ in recent decades. Probably because it is politically a no-win situation. Most people wouldn’t give a toss (and probably don’t even know its a crime) but the various god-squadders would be up in arms with some demanding more stringent protections (as I seem to recall muslims do from time to time). It also opens a Parliamentary can of worms as it is likely to be a conscience issue and some dickhead MP will try substituting hate speech legislation or some variation thereof which islikely to make things worse. Conscience votes tend to lead to a free for all. From the point of view of a politician it is best left alone.

  18. The discussion of NS, Germany etc. says to me that we might need a deeper analysis as to where such laws are on the books but overridden in practice (or by other laws).

    I’m a bit distressed that we’re showing some bias. Specifically:
    1. Lots of people here defending the western nations with ‘yes but that’s just on the books, not in practice.’ Couldn’t that be true of the islamic nations too? I have no idea what the statistics are, but if we’re going to judge countries by convictions we should to that for all of them. If we’re going to judge countries by their law codes, we should do that for all of them. The one thing we should not do is flip which criteria we use depending on whether we like or empathize with a country or not.

    2. If we are going to judge countries by what’s on their books (yet not enforced), it seems to me that a lot of US states might make the list too. There’s all sorts of religious nastiness still haunting our state constitutions.

    1. Seven states still include in their constitutions clauses barring from public office anyone who denies the existence of God. Arkansas adds, for good measure, “nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.”

      1. Isn’t it ironic that you can be rendered incompetent to testify as a witness in court for disbelieving in something for which there is not a shred of evidence? It’s got to be right up there with “rain on your wedding day”.

  19. This part for the report has been chapping my Canadian atheist ass for decades & politicians just refuse to budge on it:

    Ontario province funds Catholic religious education while providing no funding for other religious schools. One third of Ontario’s public schools (around 1,400) are Catholic schools receiving 100% of their funding from the government. Catholic schools discriminate against non-Catholics in hiring
    staff. Catholic schools can also exclude non-Catholic children

      1. Yes, and many non Catholics think they only pay for the public schools simply because they ask you which board when you vote but the money actually comes from the same pot.

        It’s funny because many years ago a co-worker was shocked that the majority religion in Canada was Catholic. He was Catholic and was always taught they were persecuted. Hilarious.

        1. Yasir Naqvi (MPP Ottawa-Centre) said to a CFI Ottawa event a few months ago that he’s thinking the momentum will be that in a few years that it can be successfully (from us seculars’s perspective) put to a referendum or the like.

          1. I hope so! I think the tide is turning as atheists, secularists & humanists are getting more recognition as well as support from liberal religious groups. A close family friend who is Jewish (and I still suspect more a secular Jew than a religious Jew but he won’t admit it) feels that it is the atheists who protect the rights of the religious & I tend to agree because we want equality for all. Paying for religious schools is not equality. Taking religion out of the state is the cheapest & quickest way to be equal and as inclusive.

  20. Sorry for bragging, but I’m so happy and proud that Uruguay is one of only 15 countries in the world to have the highest rating! More than a century ago we had our first staunch atheist President. Today not only the current President José Mujica is also a confessed atheist but also someone with a much more important position: the coach of the soccer national team.
    A year ago Uruguay became one of the very few countries in Latin America to legalize abortion. A few months gay marriage was legalized. Yesterday it was news that we are one of the 15 atheist-friendliest countries in the world. Today we legalized marihuana. Not long before the wrath of the invisible man with magic powers in the sky comes down upon us…
    By the way, December 25th in Uruguay is a holiday. But it is not Christmas. Officially it’s the “Day of the Family”. Happy Family Day!

    1. Congrats, good job!

      Do you want to bring some of your friends to Canada & convince politicians to stop funding Catholic schools? 🙂

    2. Even more importantly, Uruguay play good football these days.

      Their team was so violent against Scotland in the 1986 World Cup that a Scotland fan interviewed on TV said that, if they played England, he would support England. That’s how bad they were.

  21. “There is no justification for outlawing the criticism of religion, and it’s unconscionable that countries like Denmark, Iceland, Poland, Germany, New Zealand, and Greece, can jail you for “blaspheming God.”

    BUT – they don’t! Literally never ever. You would be MUCH more likely to end up in trouble in the USA (which legally separates church and state) than in any of the above countries.

    Which probably shows the effectiveness of laws vs. common social attitudes.

    That is, rating countries based on their (unenforced) laws rather than on reality is nonsense.

  22. Sorry but you can’t point to Scandinavia as a irreligious semi-utopia and in the next breath claim non-believers lead persecuted lives there because of some obscure and dead letter laws.

  23. Hi,
    about NZ blasphemy laws. I am embarrassed that we still have this law on the books in NZ. But I would like to point out that no one has ever been convicted, ever. Only one charge was ever laid in 1922 and it was not guilty. If you read the law it is more like an ordinary libel law, and in light his is court history (ie virtually non-existent) I don’t know why we just don’t remove this sore

  24. “Yep, it’s Islam—in all 13 countries. But it’s not the result of religion! No, it’s due to colonial oppression; it’s all political. In fact, I’d like to see someone pin this obvious violation of freedom of thought or speech on something other than religion itself, especially because it occurs only in Islamic countries.”

    Well, it’s worth stating the obvious. Here is how one pins the problem on something other than “religion itself”:

    One pins it where it belongs: (and I quote) “it’s Islam,” one pins the blame on Islam because Islam is the problem. If “religion itself” were the problem, then we would not find this pattern entirely pointing in the direction of Islam.

    “Religion itself” is an abstraction which corresponds to nothing anyone actually believes, and so cannot be responsible for things in any *direct* way. It is a shorthand way of talking to say “my house was damaged by insects.” But of course, I mean termites, a kind of insect which damages houses. I would be a fool to seriously blame butterflies for the damage done to my house, on the grounds that they also belong to the abstract class “insect.”

    Talking in this way easily invites talk of “secularism itself,” something that, if abstractions like this can be reasonably blamed as causing things, could reasonably be seen as causing many or most of the atrocities of the 20th century, many of the worst in human history.

    Not to mention the past. Since around 93% of all wars have had primarily secular causes, “secularism itself” is apparently the number one cause of war! Although it is noteworthy, of the remaining 7% of wars which could reasonably be classified as primarily religious in character, fully 4% of those, more than half, are all Islamic wars. So more wars have been fought in the name of Islam that have been waged in the name of every other religion on earth combined. This is further proof that inferring characteristics from the specific case of Islam to religion in general is a ridiculously unwarranted leap.

    So ask you: have I erred when I pin the blame for this on Islam? And if I do put the blame rightly, then haven’t I pinned it elsewhere than on “religion itself”? That which was to have been done has been done: QED

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