There’s not much that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate can agree on these days, but both parties ought to condemn countries that punish people for saying unpopular things. And now a bipartisan resolution has been introduced that does just that.
This week, Senators James Lankford (R-OK) and Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced a resolution that calls for the “global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws.”
Resolved, That the Senate–
(1) recognizes that blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws inappropriately position governments as arbiters of religious truth and empower officials to impose religious dogma on individuals or minorities through the through the power of the government or through violence sanctioned by the government;
(2) calls on the President and the Secretary of State to make the repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws a priority in the bilateral relationships of the United States with all countries that have such laws, through direct interventions in bilateral and multilateral fora;
(3) encourages the President and the Secretary of State to oppose—
(A) any efforts, by the United Nations or by other international or multilateral fora, to create an international anti-blasphemy norm, such as the ‘‘defamation of religions’’ resolutions introduced in the United Nations between 1999 and 2010; and
(B) any attempts to expand the international norm on incitement to include blasphemy or defamation of religions;
(4) supports efforts by the United Nations to combat intolerance, discrimination, or violence against persons based on religion or belief without restricting expression, including United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 (2011) and the Istanbul Process meetings pursuant to such resolution, that are consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution;
(5) calls on the President and the Secretary of State to designate countries that enforce blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy laws as “countries of particular concern for religious freedom’’ under section 402(b)(1)(A)(ii) of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (22 U.S.C. 6442(b)(1)(A)(ii)) for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom, as a result of the abuses flowing from the enforcement of such laws and from unpunished vigilante violence often generated by blasphemy allegations;
(6) urges the governments of countries that enforce blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy laws to amend or repeal such laws, as they provide pretext and impunity for vigilante violence against religious minorities; and
(7) urges the governments of countries that have prosecuted, imprisoned, and persecuted people on charges of blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy to release such people unconditionally and, once released, to ensure their safety and that of their families.
The wording above is identical to H.Res. 349, which was introduced in the House in May of 2017… but went nowhere. (Another similar bipartisan resolution was introduced in 2015, but it died in the House, too.)
Still, this is an encouraging sign, says the American Humanist Association, which worked with the senators to introduce this resolution.
As AHA Legislative Director Matthew Bulger explained, “Blasphemy laws are meant to terrorize and endanger religious and secular minorities in their home countries, threatening free expression with long jail sentences or execution.” Bulger emphasized, “The new resolution urges countries that maintain these laws to act to protect religious and nonreligious minorities from torture or imprisonment by repealing them immediately.”
Sen. Coons stated upon introduction of the resolution that “Freedom of expression and religion are fundamental human rights that are the bedrock of any open society. As a person of faith, I am proud to introduce this resolution which aims to protect religious and secular minorities by calling for the repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws around the world. These laws stifle free and open discourse, and are often used to imprison activists, journalists, and other peaceful political dissidents. No one should be persecuted based on what they believe or don’t believe, and this resolution is positive step toward defending individual liberties.”
“The US government can and should use our leverage as a world leader to help protect religious minorities in nations with whom we have or form international agreements and relationships,” said Sen. Lankford. “I am grateful to stand with Senator Coons to introduce this Resolution and encourage our government to help put an end to anti-blasphemy and anti-heresy laws in other countries by highlighting religious liberty abuses and working with their governments to promote religious freedom within their borders. There are 69 countries around the world, including nations like Pakistan, with anti-blasphemy and related laws in place.”
This shouldn’t be controversial. While we often think of blasphemy as criticism of the majority religion, it also applies to Christians who preach the Gospel in non-Christian-majority nations. We shouldn’t be rewarding countries that punish free speech and unpopular rhetoric. The rest of the Senate should sign onto this resolution. What’s holding them back? It’s a win-win for everyone.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)