In a strange moment of bipartisan agreement, two congressmen have introduced a bill calling on all nations to abolish their blasphemy laws. It’s a completely symbolic move, but at least it’s about something meaningful.
Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) and — get this — Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) brought forward H.R. 290 on Tuesday, calling on “the President and the United States Department of State to make the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority in its bilateral relationships with all countries that have such laws through direct interventions in capitals and in multilateral fora.”
The resolution notes that “44 countries had blasphemy laws as of 2012,” and specifically cites instances of punishment and retribution in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan.
It goes on to criticize the idea that governments should regulate the religious speech of the governed. “[T]he House of Representatives … 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,” the resolution asserts.
[The House] …
(3) encourages the President and the United States Department of State to oppose any efforts at the United Nations or other international or multilateral fora to create an international anti-blasphemy norm, such as the 1999-2010 “defamation of religions” resolutions, or attempts to expand the international norm on incitement to include blasphemy or defamation of religions;
(4) supports efforts at the United Nations to combat intolerance, discrimination, or violence against persons based on religion or belief without restricting expression, including United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 of 2011 and the Istanbul Process implementation meetings, consistent with the first amendment of the United States Constitution;
(5) reaffirms the decision to designate Saudi Arabia a “country of particular concern” for, among other reasons, continuing to detain and imprison people for blasphemy and for imposing torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and limit the waiver on this designation to no more than 180 days;
(6) calls on the President and the Department of State to designate Pakistan and Egypt each as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act 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;
(7) urges the Governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the governments of other countries to amend or repeal their blasphemy laws as they provide a pretext for impunity or violence against religious minorities; and
(8) urges those countries that have imprisoned people on charges of blasphemy to release them unconditionally and, once released, ensure their safety and that of their families.
Sounds fine, although the UN is given too much status as the de facto global mediator (as it typically is). Of course, none of this carries any real weight, beyond whatever influence the act of passing such a resolution might have on President Obama’s resolve to “make the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority.” But Obama’s more of a hippie-theocrat-globalist, so he’ll probably follow his own counsel:
At any rate, it would be great if the House would set its toothless resolutions aside and work on repeal legislation for so-called “hate crime” here in this country.