For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
June 03, 2015
A resolution calling for the repeal of blasphemy laws worldwide was introduced and assigned to committee in the U.S. House of Representatives today, a step that secular advocacy group the Center for Inquiry is heralding as a watershed moment in the global struggle for the right to free expression.
House Resolution 290, proposed by Republican Rep. Joseph Pitts and Democrat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, cites the myriad cases of state-sanctioned persecution of those who criticize religion or do not subscribe to the dominant faith through the enforcement of “blasphemy laws,” laws which criminalize speech and beliefs that run counter to the prevailing religion of a given state, or are deemed “insulting” to religion generally. H.Res. 290 has been assigned to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The global crackdown on free expression is at a crisis point, making this crucial resolution very welcome,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s public policy director and representative to the UN. “Blasphemy laws target both the religious and nonreligious, making victims of those who criticize or satirize religion, as well as those whose religious beliefs to not comport with their accusers.”
“Blasphemy laws are a blight on modern civilization, and we are delighted that Reps. Pitts and Jackson Lee have shown the wisdom and courage to take them on,” added De Dora. “They recognize that blasphemy laws are tools to intimidate and suppress dissenting thought and speech, violate international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and were condemned most recently in the Rabat Plan of Action.”
“We urge the Foreign Affairs Committee and the entire the U.S. House to pass this resolution, and impress upon President Obama and the State Department to heed its call to prioritize ‘direct interventions’ with countries that employ blasphemy laws.”
H.Res 290 declares that the House “recognizes that blasphemy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of truth or religious rightness as they empower officials to enforce particular religious views against individuals.” Reaffirming the classification of Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern,” the resolution would also call on the President to so label Egypt and Pakistan “for perpetrating and tolerating particularly severe violations of religious freedom, including abuses flowing from the enforcement of its blasphemy law and from vigilante violence around blasphemy allegations that takes place with impunity.”
Highlighted in the resolution are the cases of Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes by Saudi Arabia for “insulting Islam,” and Asia Bibi, a Christian sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy.
The suppression of free speech and religious dissent through blasphemy laws has been a chief concern of the Center for Inquiry for many years. In 2009, CFI launched International Blasphemy Rights Day (September 30) to draw attention and spur activism on this important issue. Just this week, CFI launched a Freethought Emergency Fund to assist secularist writers under threat of death in countries such as Bangladesh (more at http://bit.ly/FreethoughtEmergency). Human rights champion Taslima Nasrin is in the U.S. now as part of this effort. At the U.N. Human Rights Council, through lobbying of the U.S. government, and through grassroots action, CFI has fought tirelessly for the right to express dissent – for the religious and the nonreligious alike.
CFI will take part in congressional briefings next week on the subject of international religious freedom and the threats to free expression. Details available at http://bit.ly/CFIBriefings.
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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is www.centerforinquiry.net.