BLASPHEMY! The word is almost onomatopoeic in the sense that all anyone has to do in order to claim a sacred offense is cry it out loud. But what happens when the authorities start to listen?

From plots to kill staff members of the Danish newspaper that published cartoons of Muhammad in 2005 to the UN Human Rights Council’s latest attempt to ban “defamation of religion,” free expression can be a tough and dangerous business. Luckily, the American public strongly supports the right to criticize religion, but it pays to not only be aware of the history of blasphemy laws and efforts around the world to preserve or pass them, but to reframe blasphemy as a socially progressive and even moral act (as George Bernard Shaw did when he said, “Every great truth begins as a blasphemy”).

International Humanist and Ethical Union Representative Matt Cherry has joked that, “defined as disrespecting God, blasphemy may seem to be the ultimate victimless crime.” But Cherry also notes, quite seriously, that humanists must not be complacent in thinking that blasphemy laws are a thing of the past.

In truth, blasphemy law shouldn’t divide those who believe in sanctity from those who don’t. It should divide those who believe in free speech as a human right from those who don’t. In a statement to the UN in opposition to the Organization of Islamic Conference’s defamation of religion resolution, signatory groups as disparate as the AHA and the American Center for Law and Justice agree that “the concept of ‘defamation of religions’ is fundamentally inconsistent with the United Nations’ founding documents, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the protection of the rights of individuals, rather than ideas.” This inconsistency must be pointed out again and again.

But folks like us who claim no allegiance to any religion have the easiest time of it. We’re the most comfortable ridiculing religious ideas, and I’d even say that free speech advocates should expect us to do it. (We must also never forget that it’s the idea we’re after—not the person.) Such actions can provide a morale boost to the victims of death threats for their perceived blasphemy and also to the many oppressed people in Islamic countries who can’t speak their minds or question the dominant religion. Letting people know they’re not alone may just be the most humane act anyone can engage in.

Luis Granados’ blasphemy piece is one of the issues at hand in the Humanist before you. I also invite you to read Robert Coover’s vivid recollections of the stormy ride he and his editor Richard Seaver took to publishing Coover’s controversial 1977 book, The Public Burning, culminating in the realization that the First Amendment is “an ideal, not a given.” You’re in for another lively meta-ride in the Humanist interview with philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. I had the pleasure of talking with her about active arrivals in thinking, the New Atheism, and the power of fiction. Turns out she’s just like her new novel—funny, complex, taken with ideas, and full of truth.

My last order of business is bittersweet, as we here at the Humanist bid adieu to our graphic designer, Mark Bednar. His talent, wit, integrity, and even keel—dude, your graphic humanity!—will be sorely missed. Happy trails.

Jennifer Bardi is the editor of the Humanist.

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