Blasphemy Prosecutions in America?

A Justice Department official, testifying before Congress, repeatedly refused to promise that the Obama DOJ will never seek to criminalize speech against any religion. Report and video here. Via Pam Geller, who has plenty to say about this.

For decades now, some of American leading universities have been normalizing the idea that interference with free speech is OK, indeed is a positive good. This has been done on two levels: first, directly, via administrative restrictions and required indoctrination, second, indirectly, by allowing students and others to get away with interfering with the free speech of others, for example by theft of opposing newspapers and by outright violent intimidation. With this precedent, it was inevitable that attacks on free speech in the wider political sphere would come to be viewed as more acceptable.

I don’t think it is at all far-fetched that a second Obama Administration, coupled with a Dem-controlled Congress, would attempt to push through what would be in effect a thinly-disguised blasphemy law, using a variant of the “crying fire in a crowded theater” argument. Whether they would get away with it or not would depend on the mix of Supreme Court Justices on the Court at that time.

11 thoughts on “Blasphemy Prosecutions in America?”

  1. We already have blasphemy laws. The modern term for blasphemy is “hate speech”. The essence of ‘religion’ is ‘received knowlege’ which is knowledge that can never be tested. PC is founded on received knowledge.

  2. The nearest approximation to “hate speech” laws in the United States, as far as I’m aware, are “hate CRIME” laws, which still involve an element of action…for example, if you beat up Jerry just because you don’t like him, then you get charged under the normal assault laws, whereas if you beat up Larry because you don’t like his race/religion/sexual orientation, then you get charged with a hate crime with a stiffer penalty. I think these are a bad idea…the idea that someone is more protected from violence because of his membership in some collectivity than he is “just” by virtue of being an American resident/citizen seems contrary to the whole idea of equal protection. But what I’m referring to as blasphemy laws, which already exist in many countries under color of “hate speech” laws, go much further, and can get you prosecuted purely for words. For example, if you argue that the Varangian religion is bad, and the local Varangians riot, then it may be considered your fault for “incitement” and you may go to jail. (Which policy obviously benefits those religions and other groups with a propensity to violence.) Even if the Varangians *don’t* riot, you may get in trouble merely for “offending” them.

    I urge everyone to google the phrase “hate speech”…I think you’ll be pretty disturbed about what turns up. A lot of American writers and intellectuals apparently feel that the American protections for free speech, compared with the englightened speech-control legislation in other countries, are unfortunate and obsolete.

  3. David,

    Every fall I teach Rauch’s “In Defense of Prejudice”. I don’t know if it helps. I hope so.

    The argument – killing ideas instead of people, scientists who want to show that son of a bitch they are right – he’s got good points, even if “purism” doesn’t seem to me to work that well.

    What has been thrown in the mix is “threat.” That’s what the bureaucrat wanted to say – no, of course, they wouldn’t ban words, but words that are threats they’d look into. That’s not as unreasonable as you imply but it is a slippery slope, so maybe it is as bad as you think. We see where he’s coming from and there’s been slippage in the last few years. The artificial world of people in certain cliques or occupatons makes any disagreement foreign & all that pop culture seems to make them think disagreements are by their nature threatening. With the Muslims, well, to be politically incorrect, I suspect that some of that sense of “threat” is really just projection. (Given the vitriol in some comments sections that may be true of the others. Look at the delusions PenGun sees beneath words.)

  4. Ginny…making credible threats is already illegal here. No “hate speech” legislation was or is required to prosecute such behavior.

    Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament, was prosecuted in that country under the theory that his opinions about Islam–which did not include any threats–violated the “hate speech” laws. He was acquitted, but the court said the case was “on the edge”. (He has also been in fear of his life from radical Islamic extremists.) There have been similar cases in Austria and, especially, in the UK. I’m sure it is deeply upsetting to the Obama administration that they can’t do the same thing here because of that old-fashioned Constituion.

  5. Who is proposing such legislation? I must have missed that in the clip.

    The guy seems to be trying to hedge by saying they will investigate threats, which is, of course, his duty. What he would call threats and what you (and by “you” I would agree, most sensible people and not like the average Obama appointee) would call threats would probably be different. I suspect he doesn’t want that unreasonableness put on display and so hedges & hems & haws.

    And if your point is that Obama is putting some pretty strange people in these posts, you’ve got a point. Wilders has every right to fear the Muslims and not vice versa, but it is he who ended up in court. That is not the sign of a tolerant society but a sick one.

  6. In a government system where people tolerate bills passed where they have not been read or adequately analyzed, it is possible for such legislation to be passed by mistake. Assuming the judiciary eventually corrects this mistake, there is still the matter of the time between passage and the declaration of unconstitutionality. This exchange is not reassuring.

  7. I think it’s clear that hostility toward free speech in the US is growing, and have a theory as to one of the causes behind this: Because a higher % of people have jobs that are all ABOUT speech.

    If you’re a farmer, or a machinist, or an electrical engineer, then the distinction between *speech* and *action* is pretty clear in your professional life But if you’re an advertising person, or a lawyer, or a professor (outside the hard sciences), then your main professional form of action *is* speech.

  8. Seems to me that, as liberal mayors in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago threaten to use the power of their position to prevent Chick Fil A from doing business in their cities because they do no like the publicly expressed religious views of the company’s owner we are well on our way to criminalizing speech the left opposes.

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