Disposing of Relics: Overt and Covert Blasphemy Statutes in Europe

Columbia Journal of European Law: Preliminary Reference (April 1, 2016)

14 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2016

See all articles by Joanna Caytas

Joanna Caytas

University of Oxford, Nanotechnology for Medicine and Health Care

Date Written: April 1, 2016

Abstract

While there is broad public consensus on the need to abolish any form of blasphemy statutes, European state law exhibits a disconcerting pattern of schizophrenia: while outright criminalization of blasphemous utterances has become rare (though far from entirely obsolete), most states retain some kind of quasi-blasphemy statute on the books. It is virtually never enforced – and certainly no longer with a view to protecting a deity – but can nonetheless be invoked if political expediency requires it, primarily to protect against backlashes of public sensibility from less tolerant groups.

This paper argues that, not least in the light of recent and ostensibly religion-driven terrorist attacks, freedom of expression is indivisible and non-rescindable. Freedom of dissent when nobody much cares is worthless. It means nothing without the freedom to offend: one man’s sanctity is another man’s idiocy, just as one man’s terrorist is the next person’s freedom fighter. The same is true for legal protections extended, at least de facto, only to the state’s primary denomination. In open, pluralistic and diverse societies, blasphemy statutes primarily serve to suppress or muffle the expression of agnostics and atheists that account for one of the largest population groups measured by near-universal decline in attendance of religious services. But anachronisms continue to exist, and give rise to substantial concerns. Some states even invoke extraterritorial jurisdiction to enforce religious respect. The paper examines state laws in Europe on a case-by-case basis and highlights contradictions with constitutional protections for secularism.

Keywords: Blasphemy, Hate Speech, Religious Freedom, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Offend, Desecrating Venerated Objects, Protecting Sensibilities

Suggested Citation

Caytas, Joanna, Disposing of Relics: Overt and Covert Blasphemy Statutes in Europe (April 1, 2016). Columbia Journal of European Law: Preliminary Reference (April 1, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2804324

Joanna Caytas (Contact Author)

University of Oxford, Nanotechnology for Medicine and Health Care ( email )

Oxford
United Kingdom

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