In the News: US Congressional Hearings on Blasphemy, Heresy and Apostasy Laws

Humanist Witness Provides Testimony at Congressional Hearing on Blasphemy’s Impacts, American Humanist Association, 2020-01-28.

(Washington, DC, January 28, 2020) — On Tuesday, American Humanist Association Policy Manager Rachel Deitch read congressional testimony on behalf of the AHA from Rafida Bonya Ahmed. The congressional hearing, on ending global religious persecution, was held jointly by the United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and Oversights and Reform Committee and the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. It highlighted blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws and how those laws hinder religious freedom around the world.

Blasphemy laws exist in more than a third of the world’s countries and ban criticism of religious beliefs, symbols, and figures. In several countries, the penalty of violating a blasphemy law is death. Not only do the laws harm nontheists, but also any dissident or minority faith population across all religious sects.

Ahmed is a Bangladeshi-American author and blogger. Ahmed and her husband, Avijit Roy, were attacked by Islamic extremists at a book fair in Bangladesh in 2015, where she was gravely injured and Avijit was killed. Ahmed’s testimony explained: “Blasphemy laws produce the opposite effect of protecting religious freedom: they entangle policymakers, courts, and law enforcement with narrow views of religion that often prop up already powerful religious groups. And the impact on minority religions and on nonreligious groups is far reaching.”

This hearing occurs as the House Foreign Affairs Committee considers House Resolution 512, which calls on the President and the Secretary of State make repeal of blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy laws a priority around countries the US works with in bilateral relationships. Additionally, the resolution encourages the President and Secretary of State to oppose efforts to create a model for blasphemy laws at the UN, and encourages the UN to combat religious intolerance and discrimination across the world.

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The resolution also calls for countries with such laws to amend their laws and release prisoners of conscious who are imprisoned or being persecuted on charges of blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy.

Laws which criminalize blasphemy, heresy or apostasy are unacceptable and must be repealed in every country where they exist. They constitute a total negation of freedom of conscience and are extreme examples of religious privilege. Such laws facilitate and encourage the persecution of atheists, other non-believers and religious minorities.


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