On January 30, 2017 the federal government tabled a response to an electronic Parliamentary petition (E-382) calling for the repeal of Canada’s blasphemous libel law (Criminal Code Section 296).
“Should women abandon religion?” Four female panelists face-off in a wild, whip-smart public debate about religion and misogyny. With opinions flying from a progressive Muslim lawyer, an Orthodox Jewish spiritual leader, an excommunicated nun and a lesbian atheist pundit, Unholy delivers a hilarious, no-holds-barred look at contemporary women in organized religion.
Gretta Vosper writes:
Join me at Unholy on Friday, February 2nd. I’ll be up on stage, not in the gripping conversation that is the responsibility of four awesome actors, but the one that will take place afterward, the one that will point to where we can go from here, as women, as citizens, as people who are tired of stories that tell us we aren’t good enough.
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$15 PWYC tickets are available for Sunday matinees.
A part of CFIC’s complicated mission(see it at the top of this page) is to provide education and training about secularism. To understand secularism, is to understand the interaction between law and religion. While there are a variety of ways that religion indirectly influences law (such as laws which have the same effect as enforcing a religious perspective on all people in the country), the most direct influence is through blasphemy laws. CFIC encourages an understanding of all blasphemy laws and how they impact their local societies and people around the world. In this article, CFIC examines blasphemy laws in the USA. In 2011 Pew Research Center published a study indicating that 59 countries (30%) still have some form of legislation against blasphemy, apostasy or religious defamation. While nationally the United States has deemed blasphemy laws unconstitutional, some states still have them on the books. In the 1952 case of Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, the U.S. Supreme Court found that
“the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them. . . . It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine . . . .”
President Obama, in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, made a statement that “the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.”
It is surprising, after this Supreme Court decision and Obama’s speech, that six states still have laws against blasphemy.
Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wyoming, have laws which reference blasphemy.
Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.
It makes one wonder, if these laws are never enforced, why does it matter that they exist? They may rarely be enforced but their existence allows for some cases to be brought forward. A Pennsylvanian filmmaker was turned down in 2007 for a corporate name “I Choose Hell Productions”, based on Pennsylvania’s blasphemy law. States have symbolic power to enforce these laws. It’s a form of moral condemnation as stated by Sarah Barringer Gordon, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
- Restrict freedom of speech
- Infringe on the right to freedom of religion
- Often lead to human rights violations during enforcement
- Can incite mass violence
- Fail to promote religious harmony which is supposedly the intention
The infamous Danish cartoons became so publicized because of the blasphemy laws attached to them. Raif Badawi faces physical brutality and the death penalty for a blasphemous blog posting. The Charlie Hebdo shooting is mass violence based on perceived blasphemy. There is no proof that blasphemy laws promote harmony, in fact, countries with these laws often have higher levels of religious tension.
Where does the United States stand today on blasphemy laws?
The United States has been fighting for religious freedoms and an end to blasphemy laws abroad, and has offered criticism on the intolerance of other cultures. The credibility of these actions will be seen as questionable until they put an end to the hypocrisy.
Both the American Humanist Association and the Centre for Inquiry (USA) are partners in the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws (ICABL); the purpose of which is to remove blasphemy laws wherever they exist.
The American Humanist Association, an organization with a long history of opposing blasphemy laws within the USA, has called for a repeal of blasphemy laws:
“Laws prohibiting blasphemy are a relic of the Middle Ages and are blatantly unconstitutional,” declared Mel Lipman, a constitutional lawyer and president of the American Humanist Association. “Blasphemy is a purely religious offense and hence the sole concern of religious organizations and their own members. By contrast, those people without religion, or who have religious beliefs that don’t condemn blasphemy, shouldn’t be affected.”
CFIC approves the work of AHA and other organizations who educate Americans about blasphemy laws in the USA and around the world. Just as Canadians must direct their gazes to Criminal Code Section 296, so too should the residents of other countries investigate blasphemy regulations which violate the human rights of their citizens. Specifically in the US, this requires investigation of Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wyoming, which today still have problematic laws against blasphemy.
This blasphemy update is provided by legal project intern Cassandra Martino with CFIC.
PMB – Section 159 of the Criminal Code of Canada
A Private Member’s Bill (PMB) is useful, even if it is not passed, to bring an issue to the attention of government, Members of Parliament, and the public. This is what NDP MP Craig Scott attempted to do when he introduced PMB C-448 on October 4th 2012. This Bill called for the repeal of section 159 of Canada’s Criminal Code, thus removing the distinction between anal intercourse and other forms of sexual activity. This section of the criminal code may be viewed as the criminalization of one part of gay sexual activity beyond the age of consent – although anal intercourse is not a sexual activity exclusive to gay persons. It is the intent to criminalize homosexual acts that is not only stigmatizing and outdated but unconstitutional.
Section 159 has been found unconstitutional by three courts in Canada: the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta.
In the explanation in the case of R. v. C.M., 1995 before the Court of Appeal for Ontario, Justice Abella stated:
Anyone who is 14 or older, whether married or not, can consent to most forms of non-exploitive sexual conduct without criminal consequences, whereas no one can consent to anal intercourse unless he or she is at least 18 or married. Sexual orientation is an analogous ground of discrimination prohibited under s. 15 of the Charter. Gays and lesbians form a historically disadvantaged group, and s. 159 violates s. 15(1) of the Charter because it arbitrarily disadvantages individuals in that historically disadvantaged group — gay men — by denying to them until they are 18 a choice available at the age of 14 to those who are not gay.
Section 159 is not the only outdated provision in the Criminal Code of Canada. Recent events surrounding international religious violence and cruel blasphemy laws have provided Canadian organizations such as the Centre for Inquiry Canada (CFIC), public attention and outrage about attempts to stifle freedom of expression. The public has begun to critically examine and reject Section 296 of the Criminal Code, which states that “every one who publishes a blasphemous libel is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years”.
Our Stance at The Centre for Inquiry Canada
The Centre for Inquiry Canada has been instrumental in establishing the International Coalition Against Blasphemy Laws (ICABL) and the End Blasphemy Laws website. As the Blasphemy Project Intern, for CFIC, I have reached out to MP Craig Scott and received the needed support to consider a PMB repealing Section 296. These outdated provisions no longer reflect our modern, diverse, and tolerant society. Not only are both section 296 and 159 unconstitutional, they are not reflective of Canadian values. Unfortunately, Canada is maintaining these outdated ideas by allowing them to remain in the Criminal Code of Canada. If you agree that section 269 should be repealed click here to join our Action List and keep in touch with the CFIC’s End Blasphemy Laws Campaign.
This blasphemy update is provided by legal project intern Cassandra Martino with CFIC.
Boko Haram is fundamentalist Islamic terrorist group.1 According to the BBC, its official Arabic name (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad) means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”.2 Its more colloquial name, Boko Haram,may be very loosely translated as “Non-Islamic education is forbidden” or “Western education is a sin”.3 As well wanting to establish an Islamic state based on sharia law, the group also opposes what it sees as “Western” or non-Islamic education in Nigeria.4
The group’s violent actions have been denounced by Muslim organizations all over the world.5 It has been in the news most recently for kidnapping about 300 teenaged girls from their school in Chibok, in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria.6 In addition to various bomb attacks against civilians and army bases,7 they have committed similar atrocities against students in the past.
In February 2014, they opened fire on a school dormitory in Buni Yadi in Yobe state, with different news sources reporting between 29 and 43 teenaged boys being killed.8 They did the same thing in September 2013, killing about 50 male students and teachers in their dormitory at the College of Agriculture in Gujba in Yobe state.9 In July 2013, they reportedly killed 42 students at their secondary school in Mamudo, also in Yobe state, “spraying it with bullets and using jerry cans to burn some pupils alive,” according to The Telegraph.10
Any decent human being is shocked and saddened by such events. Many of us have an urge to do something. What can we do? Many have expressed outrage and kept international attention on the issue by using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Many attend rallies, expressing outrage and showing support for the kidnapped girls and their families.11 Many thousands have signed petitions urging more effort to find the kidnapped girls, such as this White House petition ( https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/work-un-and-nigerian-government-bring-home-girls-kidnapped-boko-haram/fFcLj7s2 ) .12
The desire to help, to do something, is important and to be commended. But the fact remains that the situation in Nigeria is incredibly dangerous and, tragically, interventions may do more harm than good. The Nigerian military13 and police14 have committed their own atrocities, and their actions to tackle Boko Haram and rescue the girls may inflame the situation.15 Help from other governments may not be effective and also has the potential to worsen the situation, with the international attention actually encouraging future large scale terrorist atrocities.16
The fundamental problem is that the situation was already dire, even before these events occurred, and it has been so for some time. The causes leading to the current terrible situation are historically and politically complex, involving British colonialism;17 the rich world’s dependence on oil;18 religious, cultural and political differences between various ethnic groups;19 repeated military coups;20 corruption;21 poverty, and great disparity between the north and south;22 and disease (including polio, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis).23 It would be easy for the good intentions of individuals and governments to make a terrible situation even worse, which makes the kidnappings even more heartbreaking.
Does that mean we should throw up our hands in despair and do nothing? No, but we do have to be realistic about what we can achieve, much as we might wish to do more. We need to recognize our limitations as well as our strengths.
What are the strengths of an organization such as CFI Canada? What can we do, as individuals and also as a national educational charity? Unfortunately, we simply may not be able to do anything about the current atrocities in Nigeria. (For many, this may be the attraction of prayer — it can make people feel like they’re doing something instead of accepting uncomfortable feelings of powerlessness.)
However, we can each play a small part in trying to improve the future. We can speak out about the importance of secularism, everywhere around the world. A secular society is one in which the government and all its institutions — from its military to its courts to its schools — are religiously neutral. A secular society respects and protects freedom of religion, as well as freedom from religion. A secular society recognizes the right to an education that is free from all religiously motivated violations. A secular society recognizes the right of its citizens to have different religious beliefs (including atheism) from other citizens and members of the government.
Sadly, Nigeria is a long way from being a functional secular society, and it provides a stark and bloody illustration of the importance of secularism and how we must never take it for granted. We must insist on secularism, and be vigilant against religiously motivated violations, small and large, at home and abroad. Each of us can do what we can to educate and inform others within our own sphere of influence — whether at the local PTA meeting, or in conversation with national politicians. CFI Canada can assist in arranging events at which speakers talk about the importance of secularism. Although the beneficial effects of education may be painfully slow to materialize, education is a vitally important way to change the world for the better — and it’s what we do best.
If you are interested in inviting a speaker on the importance of secularism to talk with your high school or college class, community group or organization, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or your local Branch leader.
Zena Ryder is Branch Director of CFI Canada’s Okanagan Branch
Media, Commentary and Further Information
Slider Map Source: http://www.vidiani.com/?p=9522
5. BC Muslim Association: http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/05/08/b-c-muslimsdenounce-boko-haram-kidnappings-murders/. Association of London Muslims: http://www.lfpress.com/2014/05/06/london-muslims-condemn-nigeria-kidnappings. Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-chicago-muslim-groups-call-for-greater-efforts-to-free-nigeriangirls-20140508,0,237912.story. Various American Muslim organizations: http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/american-muslim-organizations-condemnboko-haram/0020173. International Islamic Fiqh Academy, in Saudi Arabia: http://www.arabnews.com/news/567611. The International Union for Muslim Scholars: http://www.onislam.net/english/shariah/special-coverage/472305-boko-haram-nigeria-school-girlkidnap-abduct-marry.html.
6. The estimates of the exact number of girls who were kidnapped varies. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/boko-haram-the-group-behind-the-brazen-nigerian-schoolgirlkidnappings-1.2633899
8. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26338041, http://news.naij.com/60223.html, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-26/scores-dead-in-boko-haram-nigeran-school-attack/5284250
9. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2013/09/gunmen-storm-nigeriancollege-201392910646471222.html, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-09-29/students- gunned-down-as-militants-attack-college-dorms/4987926
11. Some examples: Hamilton, Ontario: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/nigerian-missing-girls-crisis-spurs-hamilton-mother-s-day-rally-1.2632423. Baltimore, Maryland: http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2014/05/07/bring-back-our-girls-morgan-stateuniversity-rallies-for-kidnapped-nigerian-students/. Washington, DC: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2014/05/06/Rally-At-Nigerian-Embassy-In-DC-Seeks-To-Bring-Our-Girls-Back. Dublin, Ireland: http://www.thejournal.ie/rally-dublin-missing-girlsnigeria-1450243-May2014/. Edmonton, Alberta: http://metronews.ca/news/edmonton/1026527/edmontonians-rally-calls-for-government-to-help-bring-back-our-girls/. Vancouver, British Columbia: http://globalnews.ca/news/1317887/rally-to-raise-awareness-aboutkidnapped-nigerian-girls-to-be-held-in-vancouver/.
13. http://rt.com/news/nigeria-islam-atrocities-war-rights-437/, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/nigeria-schoolgirls-u-s-constrained-in-helping-nigeria-find-boko-haramcaptives-1.2635486
23. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigeria, http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc272109/m1/1/high_res_d/RL33964_2013Nov15.pdf
24. Nigeria’s neighbours (17 May): http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/05/nigeria-neighbours-pledge-war-boko-haram-201451716358410917.html