By Ronald A. Lindsay
You have International Blasphemy Rights Day (IBRD) on your calendar, right? It’s only a couple of days from now—September 30—in case for some bizarre reason you forgot.
The Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit organization of which I was formerly the president, launched IBRD in 2009 in part to draw attention to the fact that criticism of religious beliefs is prohibited through legal sanctions or social pressure in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, although there is now a formal campaign to end blasphemy laws, and this campaign has met with some success in Western countries—Demark abolished its centuries-old blasphemy law in June—many countries, especially those with majority Muslim populations, still retain laws that impose harsh penalties for blasphemy. Pakistan, to cite just one such country, continues to have a number of blasphemy cases each year, often targeting religious minorities and sometimes resulting in death sentences.
Even when blasphemy laws are not enforced by the state, the underlying mentality that supports such laws often results in social pressure to refrain from questioning majoritarian religious views. This pressure can take the form of homicidal violence from those outraged by the questioning of their beliefs. Consider, for example, the several Bangladeshi bloggers who have been hacked to death by religious extremists over the last few years.
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