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Congress passes resolution condemning world’s blasphemy laws



John Burger - published on 12/08/20 - updated on 12/08/20

Bill would have president oppose U.N. efforts to establish international bans on the “defamation of religions”

The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws. House Resolution 512 passed Monday by a vote of 386-3. 

In several countries, persons of religious minorities have been imprisoned or executed for violating the nation’s law against blaspheming the majority religion or a religious figure. Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman, was on death row for eight years following an incident in which she was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

“Blasphemy laws have affected Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i, secularists, and many other groups, are inconsistent with international human rights standards because they establish and promote official religious orthodoxy and dogma over individual liberty, and often result in violations of the freedoms of religion, thought, and expression that are protected under international instruments, including Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” reads the resolution, which was introduced in 2019 by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

The resolution cites a United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) finding that blasphemy charges are often based on false accusations, are used for sectarian or political purposes, and foster religious intolerance, discrimination, and violence. The commission has found that at least 70 countries had blasphemy laws as of 2018, including 18 Middle East and North African countries, eight countries in the Americas, 18 Asia-Pacific countries, 14 European nations, and 12 Sub-Saharan African countries.

Three examples of these laws the resolution cites are in:

  • Russia, where they have been used to ban Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist organization and fueled persecution of this religious group;
  • China, where they have been used to arbitrarily detain an estimated 800,000 to 2,000,000 Uighur Muslims in internment camps because they followed Islamic rituals and practices;
  • North Korea, where they have been used to detain an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians in labor camps because they followed the tenets of Christianity.

The resolution calls on the President and the Secretary of State to make the repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws a priority in the bilateral relationships of the United States with all countries that have such laws, through direct interventions in bilateral and multilateral fora. It encourages the President and the Secretary of State to oppose any efforts by the United Nations or by other international or multilateral fora to create an international anti-blasphemy norm, such as the “defamation of religions” resolutions introduced in the United Nations between 1999 and 2010.

Religious Freedom
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