Sam Brownback must condemn Italy blasphemy conviction

Sam Brownback

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is urging the Trump administration’s top “religious freedom” official to voice his objection to an Italian blasphemy conviction.

An Italian court recently enforced the country’s law against blasphemy, fining famous Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani 4,000 Euros for pointing out the disturbingly violent imagery inside a typical Catholic church. Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, has repeatedly spoken against blasphemy laws in Muslim-majority countries, including in the 2019 Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. But that report did not list Italy as a country of concern for religious freedom, although Italy was in the most severe category of countries with blasphemy laws in the same commission’s 2017 report on the subject.

FFRF calls on Brownback to show that his objections to blasphemy laws extend beyond Islamic theocracies and apply equally to Christian-majority countries like Italy. True religious freedom includes the right to dissent, and no one should ever face government-imposed penalties for speaking against a church, its dogma or its imagery, FFRF insists.

“We ask that you speak out against this Italian law and its enforcement,” FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor writes to Brownback.

Blasphemy laws are a relic of the Middle Ages that violate basic fundamental human rights of free speech and religious freedom. They have no place in a modern, free society. The United States has recognized this and should consistently condemn this conviction.

It should also be noted that Toscani’s observation is undeniably correct. It is easy to forget, growing up in a Christian-majority society, that Christianity is fundamentally based on vicarious redemption through human sacrifice.

Unfortunately, blasphemy laws are astonishingly common. More than 70 countries across many regions maintain these archaic rules, in some instances punishable by life imprisonment and death, as well as often violent extrajudicial retribution from other citizens. As FFRF has long pointed out, blasphemy is a victimless crime, but blasphemy laws create many innocent victims.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit with more than 30,000 members across the country. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public about matters related to nontheism.

Photo via Shutterstock By Mark Reinstein

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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