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    Blasphemy – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Should modern nations have laws against blasphemy?

    blasphemy lawA. The offence of blasphemy should have no place on the statute book. My reasons are as follows:

    1. A law against blasphemy gives religion an official status which appears to contravene the principle of separation of church and state.

    2. If blasphemy were to be retained as an offence, it would need to provide protection for all religious groups and every religion. This would raise impossible questions as to what constitutes a religion, and would require unmanageable administrative machinery.

    3. Whilst every religious believer has the right to maintain their cherished beliefs and practices without suffering offence, insult or discrimination, such rights are better protected by anti-discrimination legislation and by the laws which safeguard public order.

    4. In a democratic society believing in free speech, every ideology, philosophy and belief must be capable of tolerating questioning, debate and criticism, so long as the decencies of controversy are observed in a way consonant with the mores of society.

    From the Jewish point of view, blasphemy has a very specific and limited definition, i.e. cursing the name of God (Lev. 24:10-23; Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:5). Making negative comments about religious people or practices is not blasphemy in this sense. English law came to regard uttering an insult to Christianity as blasphemy, but this is an unjustified extension of the original concept.

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