Friday, November 11, 2011

"Blaspheming in the Suburbs: The Offence of Blasphemy in a Free Speech Regime"

Helen Pringle, Blaspheming in the Suburbs: The Offence of Blasphemy in a Free Speech Regime (available here).

Pringle's paper begins with a description of the arrest of an Australian Gold Coast teenager in 2008 for wearing a heavy metal band's t-shirt which depicted a nun masturbating with a crucifix and the words "Jesus is a cunt". Noting that the teen was charged with a summary offence prohibiting "offensive, obscene, indecent or abusive language", Pringle uses the arrest as a springboard for discussing how Australian authorities are often more comfortable using obscenity laws than blasphemy laws in jurisdictions where both exist:

"Where ostensibly blasphemous acts are the subject of prosecution in Australia, they are charged not as blasphemy but instead under the rubric of offensive conduct or language. That is, in both legal and cultural terms, blasphemy has generally been absorbed into a more 'neutral' category of obscenity or offensiveness." (p. 8)

Pringle goes on to discuss the scattered and mostly forgotten references to blasphemy in various Commonwealth and State statutory provisions and uses original newspaper research to demonstrate that blasphemy prosecutions in Australia took place as early as 1835 and into the 1920s, thus improving on Coleman's standard work. According to Pringle, during this time period, "instead of being a crime that was rarely prosecuted, [blasphemy] was frequently and successfully prosecuted, although the penalties were relatively light." (p. 14)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Religious Freedom, Democracy, and International Human Rights"

John Witte, Jr. & M. Christian Green, Religious Freedom, Democracy, and International Human Rights, 23 Emory Int'l L. Rev. 583 (2009).

Witte and Green's article is a general overview of some of the religious freedom issues facing nation-states around the globe. Noting that democracy and human rights guarantees are flourishing in theory, the article cautions that "religion and freedom do not yet coincide in many countries, however rosy their new constitutional claims are as to religious rights and freedoms for all." (p. 584). The article briefly examines the question of whether religious freedom is a universal good or an artefact of Western/Christian hegemony (it favors the former view). A summary of the various international law documents on the subject of religious freedom is given, including the two Islamic declarations of human rights. In a key section, the article identifies three main issues countries are grappling with on the religious freedom front: 1) Proselytism/Evangelization, 2) Conversion & Apostasy, and 3) Blasphemy and "Defamation of Religions". The article works well as a survey/introduction to this area of law, but is too general to be of much use to scholars in the field.

Monday, November 7, 2011

French Newspaper Firebombed for Mocking Islamic Law

Several sources are reporting that the offices of a satirical French newspaper named Charlie Hebdo were largely destroyed by arson last week. The paper was about to publish a controversial special issue mocking Islamic law in Libya and Tunisia which had as its cover a figure wearing a turban saying "100 lashes if you don't die laughing!" In addition, reports indicate that the paper's website was hacked.