Spanish actor tried for blasphemy

We often forget that many countries still have laws on the books against blasphemy, i.e., insulting religion. Some such countries are surprising as we’d consider them “progressive” in many ways. As I wrote in my foreword to the new Jesus and Mo collection:

. . . despite the value of constructive blasphemy, 69 of the world’s 195 countries have laws on the books against the act, though in places the laws are vestigial and unenforced relics of an earlier time. But you can still be fined for criticizing religion in Italy, Brazil, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, and the Philippines, jailed in Germany, Poland, El Salvador, India, Finland, Ireland, India, Turkey, Morocco, and Algeria, and put to death in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. That doesn’t count places where sharia courts can pronounce death sentences not enshrined in civil law, nor acts of murder committed by offended believers in countries like the Netherlands.

How did I forget Spain in the second sentence? In fact, Spain not only has blasphemy laws on the books, but tries to enforce them. As Wikipedia notes in its article on “blasphemy laws”:

The article 525 of the penal law in Spain considers “vilification” of religious “feelings”, “dogmas”, “beliefs” or “rituals”. This extension to “dogmas” and “beliefs” makes it very close to a blasphemy law in practice, depending on the interpretation of the judge.

For instance, in 2012 it was used to prosecute a famous artist, Javier Krahe, for a scene (shot 34 years ago, and lasting just 54 seconds) in a documentary about him. He was discharged the same year. [JAC: “discharged” means “found not guilty”).

In 2018, following the case of Willy Toledo and three feminist protesters accused of blasphemy, the governing PSOE and supportive party Unidas Podemos pledged an end to the “medieval laws on offending religious sentiments and insult to the Crown“. Legislation was suspended following the announcement of the 2019 Spanish general election. The government and its allies were subsequently returned to power, which means the proposals will now likely return to the national parliament.

And so on to the present trial, that of Spanish actor Guillermo Toledo, the “Willy Toledo” of the entry above.  Reader Dom informs me that after having been arrested last year for blasphemy, Toledo is now undergoing a “private prosecution”, and that’s what this clip, in Spanish, states (if I’m wrong, let me know). Dom also reports that there was just a clip on the BBC news about this, but he can’t find it online.

To see what Toledo’s “crime” was, we have to go to El País and The Daily Mail (click on screenshots), which reported when he was first arrested in 2018:

The Daily Fail:

What on earth did Willy do? A previous article in El País reports that he insulted not just God, but the Virgin Mary:

The origin of the case lies with a Facebook post that the actor and activist published regarding a court case relating to three women in Seville who organized a satirical religious-style procession, which, in place of an icon from the Catholic Church, featured an icon of female genitalia.

In his comments about the fact that the case had reached the courts, Toledo wrote: “I shit on God and have enough shit left over to shit on the dogma of the saintliness and virginity of the Virgin Mary. This country is unbearably shameful. I’m disgusted. Go fuck yourselves.”

The expression “shit on God” (cagarse en Dios) is often used by Spaniards in everyday discourse, along with a number of variations, many of them with other religious references.

. . .These comments drew a legal complaint from the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers on the basis that Toledo had offended their religious feelings.

But is such a thing punishable under Spanish law? Lawyer Borja Adsuara explains that the lawsuit has to be admitted by the court, given that the offense does indeed figure in Spain’s criminal code. “[The article] is wide-ranging enough that it doesn’t just include the Catholic religion, but also humiliation and ridicule of atheists for being atheists. Looking at it another way, the offense against religious feelings can be interpreted as a crime of intolerance of other people’s religious beliefs,” Adsuara tells Verne via a telephone interview.

According to the Daily Fail,

“The case stems from a July 2017 Facebook message in which he defended three women charged with blasphemy for staging a mock-religious procession wielding a giant vagina.  In his post Toledo said: ‘I s*** on God, and I have enough s*** left over to s*** on the dogma of the sanctity and virginity of the Virgin Mary.  ‘This country is unbearably shameful. I’m disgusted.’

El País adds that Toledo also said this: “Long live the Insubordinate Pussy.”

Here’s that Facebook post, which Toledo put up in these circumstances:

He posted this message shortly after the beginning of a trial in Seville against three women who had paraded a large model of a vagina around the city as though it were an Easter religious procession. The women called this event “the procession of the Insubordinate Pussy.”

LOL! Ceiling Cat bless those women!  Finally, El País adds this:

The Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers filed a complaint against Toledo “for shitting on the dogma, and because his words were an offense against religious sentiment,” said the group’s president, Polonia Castellanos, adding that this is a publicity stunt by Toledo because everyone has the obligation to appear in court when summoned.

It doesn’t look as if Toledo will go to jail for this, because, according to El País, the “blasphemy law”, Article 525, specifies that punishment is a monetary fine. Curiously, though, if you look up the Spanish Criminal Code, which appears in English in entirety here, you find this:

What on earth is “a fine from eight to twelve months”? This implies that there could be a jail sentence as well, but I’ll count on readers to clarify this. Note that you can get penalized for disparaging atheists as well! Well, at least the law is even-handed, but I’d like someone to prosecute a believer—or even the Catholic Church—for disparaging atheists. It’ll be a cold day in Seville when that happens!

Blasphemy laws are antiquated—no part of an enlightened country. You should be able to say what you want about religion. After all, does it pick your pocket or break your bones? Nope. All it supposedly does is hurt the feelings and bruise the delusions of believers.

Let’s hope the Spanish government uses this case to overturn the blasphemy laws, as Ireland just did. And let’s also hope that Toledo goes free.

 

29 Comments

  1. Pierluigi Ballabeni
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    According to El País (today), Spain abolished the blasfemy law 3 decades ago:

    “17 de febrero de 2020. Más de tres décadas después de que se eliminara el delito de blasfemia del Código Penal, Willy Toledo se ha sentado este lunes en el banquillo de los acusados por cagarse en Dios y la Virgen en dos mensajes de Facebook.”(https://elpais.com/politica/2020/02/17/actualidad/1581943373_108515.html)

    It must be a different law that has has more or less the same effect.

    • Pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      The lawsuit was dropped today.

      • Posted February 17, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        The story was on the World Service radio news this morning…
        I cannot find it on the BBC website

  2. Bruce Lilly
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    “You should be able to say what you want about religion. After all, does it pick your pocket or break your bones? Nope.”

    I agree wholeheartedly with the first sentence. If the question applies to speech about religion, and the lack of harmful effect of (literal) speech on religious believers, I can agree. But it’s a bit unclear what the “it” in the question references; if it refers to religion itself, then I must disagree. When religion interferes in public policy, e.g. by providing tax exemption for churches which nevertheless consume public resources (police, fire, EMT, wear and tear on roads and other infrastructure, etc.), and/or funnels taxpayer funds away from public schools and into religious indoctrination, religion definitely picks my pocket. And if one is a medical practitioner such as the late Dr. David Gunn, religion does much worse than merely breaking bones.

    • eric
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      But it’s a bit unclear what the “it” in the question references

      The phrase is from Thomas Jefferson, and it’s referencing the “right of conscience” i.e., that there should be no ‘mind crimes’, that the state should not punish people for believing in a specific religion (or none). “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

      • Bruce Lilly
        Posted February 17, 2020 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

        I recognize the Jeffersonian origins, but my issue was with the context of the present use and the ambiguity of the referent of “it”, particularly in light of the current political and legal climate in the US.

        • eric
          Posted February 17, 2020 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

          It does not refer to the law treating churches or other organizations as charities etc. The original phrase was about personal freedom to believe.

          • Br
            Posted February 18, 2020 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

            To re-clarify, the current discussion is about the current use here, not about a slightly different remark made by a different person more than two hundred years ago.

  3. Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I guess we have blasphemy laws in the UK now, newly instituted by the Scottow ruling.

    If one should blaspheme against woke ideology by calling a trans activist by the wrong pronoun, or — heaven forfend — be “unkind” to them during a Twitter spat, then you can be convicted of a criminal offence.

    • chrism
      Posted February 18, 2020 at 5:37 am | Permalink

      Ha! I was just going to mention that, along with the fact that everyone is so scared of a certain religious group that any criticism of said religion is conflated with ‘racism’ against its devotees, and is consequently considered hate speech. And what is illegal hate speech against a religion but a de facto blasphemy law?

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Any chance of consolidating Spain’s “procession of the Insubordinate Pussy” with Japan’s annual Kanamara Matsuri parade (aka the “Festival of the Steel Phallus”)?

    Seems like a good fit. (Aesthetically speaking, I mean, of course.)

    • eric
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Curious that it’s circumcised; I didn’t think the Japanese had that as a tradition.

    • Mark R.
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      I saw that festival on HBO’s “Our Man in Japan” with James (Bim) May. Hilarious stuff.

      • Mark R.
        Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

        Amazon prime, not HBO

      • revelator60
        Posted February 17, 2020 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

        Bim, guess what? Shijo-Ohashi is a bridge representative of Kyoto that crosses the Kamo River over Shijo Street. It is also called Gion Bashi.

        • Mark R.
          Posted February 17, 2020 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

          Had me laughing all over again. Thanks!

  5. rickflick
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I bet punishment of a fine from 8 to 12 months means he’d get a bill in the mail every month for some unspecified amount which he would probably tear up.

  6. FB
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    What on earth is “a fine from eight to twelve months”?

    Fines in Spain: from 10 days to 2 years, and from 2 euros to 400 euros.

    So, in this case, the minimum would be 480 euros. The women were fined 3,600 (10 euros per day for a year).

    • FB
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

      It’s confusing because a fine in Spain is not simply an amount of money, it’s an amount of money that is the result of a multiplication (amount * number). And a “month” is not a month, it’s simply the number 30.

      So, “a fine of eight months” = 240 * amount (min 2 euros, max 400 euros), which of course doesn’t mean you have to make 240 payments.

  7. Alfonso E Barnes
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Vagina is the canal in a female mammal that leads from the uterus to the external orifice of the genital canal. It is not visible from the outside.
    Vulva is the external parts of the female genital organs.
    So the statement: “women charged with blasphemy for staging a mock-religious procession wielding a giant vagina.” shows the common confusion between the two terms: vulva and vagina. The women carry a giant vulva and not a giant vagina.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 17, 2020 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Correct. I wonder if a lawyer could make something of that. After all, the ladies were accused of walking around with a vagina replacing Mary, not a vulva.

      • EdwardM
        Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

        Someone has to say it; I fear you guys are missing the point. These are a bit like jokes – if you try to explain them, they’re ruined.

      • Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        It may be a bit of a stretch, but there are those Virgin Mary icons that look like the virgin is stepping out of a radiant vulva.

  8. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I note that the giant phallus is carried by women. I find that, incomprehensibly, somehow satisfying. 🙂

  9. Jon Gallant
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    “A fine from eight to twelve months” must refer to the specified increase in the time the defendant must spend in Purgatory. This is believed to be only under the control of God, but the Spanish Association of Christian Lawyers, being so close to God, no doubt claims a comparable level of authority.

  10. Eduardo
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    “Me cago en dios” was one of my father’s favorite expressions to relieve stress.
    Having seen this article, me cago en dios, en la virgen María, y en todos los santos ya que estamos.

  11. Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    On the fine:

    Some places have fines prorated to income, so for example a professional hockey player in Sweden (I think it was) got a speeding ticket for something like (the equivalent of) $150 000.

    So a fine of 8-12 months is your income for that period of time. 😉 (Horrendous for this non-crime!)

    Seriously, though, no idea …

  12. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 17, 2020 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    Never mind that religion is an offence to an Enlightened humanity, then.

    Speaking of antiquated laws, there was a recent Conversation piece on how less than half of nations has made slavery a crime as they have promised in human rights declarations. What a majority of nations have done is to abolish slave trade. And slavery is still a phenomena …

  13. Posted February 17, 2020 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

    “Spanish actor tried for blashemy”

    When I first read the above headline I thought it was about a Spanish thespian who was supposed to blaspheme as part of an acting role but couldn’t bring himself to do it.


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