Turtles all the way down

Atheist groups join forces to call for end of blasphemy laws around the world

Posted by doctore0 on February 1, 2015

FoolsAtheist groups in Canada and around the world are taking the unusual step of joining forces to fight blasphemy laws that they say are an infringement on free speech

Spearheaded by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and the European Humanist Federation, the End Blasphemy Laws Campaign will represent 200 humanist and secular organizations worldwide. Together, the groups plan to advocate for those prosecuted under blasphemy laws and call for the repeal of such laws, which are still on the books even in many Western countries.

Two leading Canadian secularist groups, the Centre for Inquiry Canada and Humanist Canada, are partnering with organizations in the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, and the Philippines to launch the coalition, which was unveiled on Friday.

“This is the largest and best co-ordinated anti-blasphemy law coalition and campaign in history,” CIC head Eric Adriaans said. “IHEU has issued reports on blasphemy laws in the past, but this is the first time that I’ve seen organizations around the world actively co-operate and merge initiatives in this way.”

IHEU president Sonja Eggerickx said the attacks on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo earlier this month gave the organizations new impetus to move on an international scale.

Pierre Galand, president of EHG, said the campaign isn’t meant to incite hate. Rather, the coalition is concerned with what it sees as a “double standard.” While the European Union takes a hardline against blasphemy laws around the world, many of its own member states have yet to repeal their own.

In Ireland, the Charlie Hebdo attacks have prompted renewed calls for the repeal of that country’s anti-blasphemy law. While the Irish government accepted the recommendation of a referendum on the offence in October, Prime Minister Enda Kenny announced earlier this month that will no longer happen during the current government’s lifetime.

Atheist Ireland chairperson John Hamill says the organization will meet with Mr. Kenny on Feb. 10 to urge the government to make good on what in October appeared to be a commitment to a review of the law. Article 40 of the Irish Constitution makes blasphemy an offence and a new blasphemy law was introduced in 2009 making it a crime punishable by a fine of up to $30,000. The introduction of the new law took many in Ireland by surprise. The United Kingdom repealed its blasphemy law just one year prior and the United States has never had one at the federal level.

“The distinction between Ireland and those who carry out executions for blasphemy must consist of more than just the severity of the punishment,” says Atheist Ireland in a letter addressed to Mr. Kenny.

In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects free speech, but the Criminal Code still lists “blasphemous libel” as a crime, punishable by up to two years in jail.

‘We have rights, our beliefs do not’

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