Blasphemy Day

Blasphemy Day International is a holiday in which individuals and groups are encouraged to openly express their criticism of, or even disdain for, religion.

It was founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry (CFI, a US non-profit educational organization whose primary mission is to encourage evidence-based inquiry into paranormal and fringe science claims, alternative medicine and mental health practices, religion, secular ethics, and society).

A student contacted the CFI in Amherst, New York to first present the idea. Ronald Lindsay, president and CEO of the CFI said regarding Blasphemy Day, ‘We think religious beliefs should be subject to examination and criticism just as political beliefs are, but we have a taboo on religion,’ in an interview with CNN. Blasphemy day was set on September 30, to coincide with the anniversary of the publication of satirical drawings of Muhammad in one of Denmark’s newspapers, resulting in the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. According to USA Today’s interview with Justin Trottier, a Toronto coordinator of Blasphemy Day, ‘We’re not seeking to offend, but if in the course of dialogue and debate, people become offended, that’s not an issue for us. There is no human right not to be offended.’

Anti-blasphemy laws exist throughout the world. In many parts of Europe and North America they have been overturned, although there are anti-blasphemy laws in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Iceland, the Netherlands and San Marino. There are also ‘religious insult’ laws in 21 European nations. The Republic of Ireland passed the ‘Defamation Act 2009’ in that year, which states in part, ‘A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €25,000.’ Finland has been the setting for a number of noteworthy blasphemy trials in the 2000s.

The Finnish linguist, political blogger Helsinki City Councillor and subsequent member of parliament Jussi Halla-aho was charged with ‘disturbing religious worship’ because of internet posts in which he called Muhammad a pedophile, Halla-aho was fined €330. In some countries, blasphemy is punishable by death, such as in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Six US states (Massachusetts, Michigan, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming) still have anti-blasphemy laws on their books, although they are seldom enforced.

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