AHA Urges U.S. to Oppose Blasphemy Laws Worldwide

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This summer, the AHA joined other groups and individuals in supporting H. Res. 349, a bi-partisan international religious freedom resolution calling upon the President and the U.S. State Department to make the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority in their relationships with countries that have such laws.

The letter was sent to all members of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee. Read the letter sent to the Rep. Edward Royce below, or download a PDF version here.


June 5, 2017

Rep. Edward Royce

2310 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515-1805

Dear Representative Royce,

The undersigned faith-based, nontheist, and religious freedom advocacy organizations, as well as individuals involved with religious freedom advocacy, write in support of H. Res. 349, a bi-partisan international religious freedom resolution recently introduced by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Alex Mooney (R-WV), David Cicilline (D-RI), and John Culberson (R-TX).

This resolution calls upon the President and the U.S. State Department to make the repeal of blasphemy laws a priority in their relationships with countries that have such laws. In addition, this resolution encourages the President and the State Department to oppose any efforts at the United Nations or other international forums to support blasphemy laws, or any attempts to expand the international norm on incitement to include blasphemy or defamation of religions.

Blasphemy laws are the most explicit laws banning the expression of doubts or criticism regarding religion, and various countries employ them to ban criticism of religious beliefs, symbols, and figures. In several countries, the penalty for violating these laws is as severe as death. These laws harm not just the nonreligious, but dissidents in all religious sects.

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, was recently convicted by a panel of five judges that ruled he had insulted Islam. As a result, he was sentenced on May 9, 2017, to two years in jail. Basuki was unable to continue his position as governor of Jakarta and was replaced by his deputy.

Salmaan Taseer, the Muslim governor of the Punjab province in Pakistan, was killed in 2011 by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, after he criticized Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Shaan Taseer, the son of Salmaan, is himself now the target of a police case and a fatwa calling for his killing after he recorded a message criticizing the country’s blasphemy law.

Prakash Kumar, a Hindu resident of Pakistan, was arrested on May 3, 2017 after locals complained he allegedly posted blasphemous content online. Police have begun a criminal investigation into Kumar, and a local court has sent him to jail for further interrogation. Unfortunately, a mob gathered outside the police station where Kumar was being held and demanded that he be handed over to them. When law enforcement refused, the crowd turned violent, and in the ensuing violence a teenager was killed.

Raif Badawi, an advocate for freedom of religion, belief, and expression, was arrested and charged on June 17, 2012 with insulting Islam and blasphemy. On July 29, 2013, a criminal court sentenced Badawi to seven years in jail and 600 lashes. On May 7, 2014, a Saudi court issued a new sentence for Raif: 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes, and a fine equivalent to $267,000. On January 9, 2015, Saudi authorities gave Badawi the first 50 of his 1,000 lashes, and in June 2015 Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court upheld the sentence of 1,000 lashes and ten years in prison.

These are just some of the many cases of individuals who have been affected by blasphemy laws. Thankfully, Congress has the unique ability to promote international religious freedom on the global stage and to encourage governments of countries where religious and non-religious rights are not respected to remedy the situation. As such, the undersigned groups urge you to co-sponsor this important resolution, and support its passage should it come to the House floor or a committee on which you serve.

Sincerely,

ORGANIZATIONS

21st Century Wilberforce Initiative

American Atheists

American Humanist Association

Bleeding for Belief

Center for Inquiry

Center for Pluralism

Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Church of Scientology National Affairs Office

Coptic Solidarity

Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations

Hindu American Foundation

Human Rights Without Frontiers International (Brussels)

International Institute for Religious Freedom

Jubilee Campaign USA

Religious Freedom Institute

Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America

Secular Coalition for America

Union for Reform Judaism

World Muslim Congress

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