Freedom of speech versus blasphemy

Freedom Of Speech Versus Blasphemy

Freedom of speech versus blasphemy

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Tension often exists between political freedom, particularly freedom of speech, and certain examples of art, literature, speech or other acts considered by some to be sacrilegious or blasphemous. The extent to which this tension has not been resolved is manifested in numerous instances of controversy and conflict around the world.

Although many laws prohibiting blasphemy have long been repealed, particularly in the West, they remain in place in many countries and jurisdictions (see Blasphemy laws). In some cases such laws are still on the books, but are no longer actively enforced.

The issue of freedom of speech versus blasphemy cannot be seen in isolation from the role of religion as a source of political power in some societies. In such a society, to blaspheme is to threaten not only a religion, but also the entire political power order of the society, and hence, the official punishments (and popular responses to blasphemy) tend to be more severe and violent.

A non-exhaustive list of modern incidents which have led to public outcries, persecution, calls for murder, or other forms of repression are set out below.


  • In 1886, American freethinker Robert G. Ingersoll defended Charles B. Reynolds, a Boonton, New Jersey man on blasphemy charges. Reynolds lost the case and was fined $50, which Ingersoll paid himself. Ingersoll's defense of Reynolds cast serious constitutional doubts on blasphemy laws and few states have attempted to prosecute a blasphemy charge......
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