The Latest Blast to Blasphemy Laws: H.R. 512

On Tuesday, July 23, 2019, Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) introduced House Resolution 512 to support the repeal of blasphemy laws globally, encouraging the State Department and President Trump to protect international religious freedom by making the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority in their relationships with foreign nations.

As of 2018, at least seventy nations around the world still have blasphemy laws that endanger the lives of those who don’t conform to the state’s official religion or worldview. Blasphemy laws are often used to target secular and religious minorities of many faith backgrounds, including Christians, Hindus, atheists, and Muslims, among others, and conviction under these laws can mean life in prison or a death sentence.

The type of legislation H.R. 512 opposes was used in Russia to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization and in China to arbitrarily detain an estimated 800,000 to two million Uighur Muslims in internment camps because they followed Islamic rituals and practices.

Joint efforts to move the needle have been working. Recently, countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Canada have repealed their blasphemy laws, and more are considering bringing these draconian laws to an end. Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Indonesia are just a few examples of nations that still enforce blasphemy laws.

“Blasphemy laws are meant to terrorize religious and secular minorities in their home countries,” explains American Humanist Association Executive Director, Roy Speckhardt. “This resolution asks our government to help protect religious and nonreligious minorities around the globe from pain and suffering inflicted at the hands of the state, purely for sectarian purposes.”

The bipartisan resolution urges the president and the secretary of state to “designate countries that enforce blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy laws as ‘countries of particular concern for religious freedom.’” It also calls on US officials to oppose any attempts by the United Nations to support blasphemy laws, citing the freedoms laid out in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, freedoms of thought, conscious, and religion.

“Despotic, theocratic and authoritarian governments across the world have laws that squelch religious freedom and liberty of conscience: laws criminalizing ‘blasphemy,’ ‘heresy,’ ‘apostasy,’ ‘witchcraft,’ ‘sorcery,’ and all kinds of other imaginary religious offenses which were wiped from the books of American law centuries ago,” says Rep. Raskin. “There are people rotting in prison today in China, Russia, Iran, and dozens of other countries which use the law to oppress and harass people because of their religious faith and their religious worship.”

Rep. Meadows, who joined Raskin in introducing the bipartisan resolution, adds that, “As a Christian, I fundamentally believe that all people are created in the image of God. We must protect all people—religious and non-religious alike—and their freedom of conscience. This resolution is an important step to tell oppressive regimes across the globe that their use of arbitrary apostasy laws to imprison, torture, and kill religious minorities is unacceptable and must come to an end. I thank my colleague, Representative Raskin, for his bipartisan work on this issue.”

The American Humanist Association will continue our work to protect the rights of people of minority faiths and no religious faith wherever those people are found.