September 30th is designated as International Blasphemy Rights Day. This is when we bring awareness to efforts to censor dissent using the false cover of “protecting religious beliefs”. Although very rare in the US, jail time and even death comes to people deemed to have committed Blasphemy. In the US, public bullying sometimes results in “voluntary” self-censorship. Blasphemy laws are bad for freedom. A vibrant society needs and allows dissent in all forms so that the people are able to make informed choices in their lives. And how tolerant we are of dissent says a lot about how we view our country and our freedoms.
What is blasphemy? The dictionary says:
President Obama spoke to the United Nations on September 25th and the topic of the anti-Muslim video that was posted to the Internet came up as well as the strong protests, some violent riots, that happened in Egypt, Libya, and even in Australia. His message was to reinforce the US Constitution protection of speech and the need to meet dissent not with censorship but with more speech.
The mayor of Columbus, Ohio, Michael B. Coleman has been sponsoring and hosting an Interfaith Prayer Luncheon for the past 13 years and using city resources to sell tickets and promote it. Last week he got a letter from the Freedom of Religion Foundation letting him know that the luncheon violated the law. He decided to not to get a legal opinion from the city legal department but in his speech at the event he doubled down on violating the law.
Saw in the news on Friday (3/23), in various cities across the country, the Catholic church organized members to protest the upcoming contraception coverage mandate that is part of the Affordable Care Act. Under the guise of religious freedom, Bishops, nuns, and others – mostly men – complained about the mandate. The problem is their protest was for the wrong reason and made them look silly.
At one such protest in Toledo Ohio:
Last week I posted about the publicity stunt anti-abortion group Faith2Action pulled at the state house. Surrounded by children some state senators were given Teddy Bears that made a heartbeat sound to try and convince them to pass HB 125. The ‘heartbeat’ bill would prohibit any abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected. Now it seems senators are giving back the toys because they cost more than $25 and would have to be reported on financial-disclosure forms.
January 16th is National Religious Freedom Day. The day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. The Virginia Statute was the basis of the 1st Amendment of the US Constitution and also can be used to support Jefferson’s idea of the separation of church and state. The Religious Right have of course co-opted the day by mass marketing misleading information about what real religious freedom means in this country. Luckily, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) has some help available to tell the truth.
The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was passed at a time when state support and protection of churches was the norm in what would become the United States. Thomas Jefferson offered the statute as a way to protect the church and the state. It is obvious from reading the text that separating church and state was the goal.