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A blasphemy law is a law prohibiting blasphemy, where blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence to a deity, or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.[1][2][3][4] According to Pew Research Center, about a quarter of the world's countries and territories (26%) had anti-blasphemy laws or policies as of 2014.[5]

Blasphemy laws are commonly used around the world to persecute people for beliefs and activities that do not conform to the majority opinion on religious and sensitive topics, and to suppress criticism of religion. They have been subject to repeated condemnations by human rights organisations and resolutions of the United Nations Human Rights Council. In some parts of the world, blasphemy laws on statute books have not been enforced for many years, but a concerted international campaign since 2015 has sought to repeal these laws in with the hope of further drawing attention to the way these laws are used around the world to persecute religious and political minorities. Some states justify blasphemy laws as "protecting" the religious beliefs of a majority, while in other countries, they are thought to offer protection of the religious beliefs of minorities.[6][7][8]

In addition to prohibitions against blasphemy or blasphemous libel, blasphemy laws include all laws which give redress to those insulted on account of their religion. These blasphemy laws may forbid: the vilification of religion and religious groups, defamation of religion and its practitioners, denigration of religion and its followers, offending religious feelings, or the contempt of religion. In some jurisdictions, blasphemy laws include hate speech laws that extend beyond prohibiting the imminent incitement of hatred and violence, including many European countries that are included in Freedom of speech by country but not yet in this article. Some blasphemy laws, such as those formerly existing in Denmark, do not criminalize "speech that expresses critique," but rather, "sanctions speech that insults."[9]

Human rights experts argue for laws which adequately distinguish between protection of individuals' freedoms and laws which over-broadly restrict freedom of speech. Article 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obliges countries to adopt legislative measures against "any advocacy of national racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence."[10] However, they also note that such protections must be carefully circumscribed, and do not support prohibition of blasphemy per se.[11]