What counts as a “blasphemy” law?

Blasphemy law includes all laws that limit freedom of speech and expression by specifically prohibiting “blasphemy” or “blasphemous libel”, or by prohibiting “insult to religion”, “defamation of religion”, “denigration of religion”, “offending religious feelings”, “ridiculing religious beliefs”, “vilification of religion”, “contempt of religion”, or similar wording. In addition, other laws such as hate speech, offensive behaviour, or public order laws, are sometimes misused as de facto blasphemy laws.

De facto blasphemy laws do not include laws which genuinely only prohibit intentional incitement to hatred or violence against individuals or groups of people defined by a religion or belief.

Because legal provisions against incitement to hatred or violence on the grounds of religion are sometimes either bound up with or perceived as provisions which extend into prohibiting “blasphemy” or religious criticism more generally, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between laws against incitement to hatred or violence, which must clearly establish an intention to incite hatred or violence, and blasphemy law.

Nor should the retention of blasphemy law be justified as a de facto means of protecting against attacks on religious buildings, objects, or texts. Blasphemy law has never provided this protection which should be provided by appropriate legislation.

Blasphemy law may exist as legislation or as common law developed by the courts. Legislation can be “repealed” but with common law there is no legislation to repeal so blasphemy common law must beabolished by legislation.

Because some groups may create pressure for de facto blasphemy charges against individuals using other legislation or bring pressure to develop new de facto blasphemy legislation or common law, governments must prevent this by introducing appropriate legislation to safeguard freedom of speech and expression and to prevent any new form of de facto blasphemy law.