Beginning in July, blasphemy will no longer be a crime in Greece.
Unlike some countries where such laws may be on the books but never used, Greece was a country where it was actually implemented. In 2012, Filippos Loizos was arrested and handed a ten-year jail sentence after he mocked a dead Orthodox monk named Father Paisios on Facebook. (Loizos, playing on the monk’s name, called him “Elder Patsitios,” which is a reference to pasta.) That sentence wasn’t overturned until 2017. Also in 2012, blasphemy charges were filed against the producers of “Corpus Christi,” a play depicting Jesus and the apostles as gay.
Those charges were all based on these definitions of blasphemy in the country’s Criminal Code (articles 198 and 199):
Malicious Blasphemy: 1. One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years. 2. Except for cases under paragraph 1, one who by blasphemy publicly manifests a lack of respect for the divinity, shall be punished by jailing for not more than six months or by pecuniary penalty of not more than 3,000 euros.
Blasphemy Concerning Religions: One who publicly and maliciously and by any means blasphemes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ or any other religion tolerated in Greece shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than two years.”
But in a rewrite of the country’s criminal code, scheduled to go into effect on July 1, those blasphemy laws are nowhere to be found. In addition, oaths of affirmation, like the kind you take in the courtroom, have been rewritten in a secular way. No more “So help me God” in their version of the oath.
The Humanist Union of Greece welcomed “these very important developments and especially that they were not met with any significant opposition.”
They weren’t alone in celebrating. Humanists UK, however, reminds us that some nations still haven’t followed suit:
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘Blasphemy laws are an unconscionable violation of the right to freedom of thought, belief, and expression and in places like Pakistan they have the most dire of consequences where people face mob brutality and the death penalty.
‘In Greece, the blasphemy law has been used to target anyone who is critical of the Church, or religion in general, and some of those targeted have faced lengthy prison sentences and their human rights have been violated.
‘While it is positive that Greece has announced it will abolish its blasphemy law, the campaign to end blasphemy laws still has a long way to go. Even in the UK — in Northern Ireland and Scotland — blasphemy is still a crime. We are urging people to write to their MLA in Northern Ireland to make a stand and say that blasphemy laws do not belong in any country.’
As the saying goes, blasphemy is a victimless crime. Criticizing religion — or mocking it — should always be welcome in a free society. Religious people cannot be considered immune from challenges to their bad ideas, and they certainly shouldn’t be able to use the courts to go after their critics.
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