While the Freedom From Religion Foundation is relieved that blasphemy charges were dropped this week against an eight-year-old Pakistani Hindu boy, the case shows why blasphemy laws must go.
The boy, from Bhong village in Rahim Yar Khan, Punjab, was accused of urinating on a carpet in a religious library in a madrassa. He and his family are in hiding and under protective police custody, fearing reprisals. Already, a Hindu temple was attacked by a Muslim mob following his release.
It is incomprehensible that Pakistani authorities could have charged a child with a victimless “crime” that carries a mandatory death penalty. And it is unthinkable that the “crime” of blasphemy could carry a mandatory death penalty. It is unacceptable that any country today still has blasphemy provisions on its books.
More than 80 countries still have blasphemy laws around the world. These laws violate our most essential rights: the freedom of thought, freedom of religion and freedom of speech. This instance of state-enforced blasphemy law is particularly egregious because the accused was a young child—so young that he would be immune from most civil and criminal liability in the United States. A deity that would demand the death of a child for acting like a child is unworthy of worship or legal protection. (By the way, while the United States can congratulate itself that such a prosecution could not happen here, laws privileging religion can still endanger U.S. children: Child marriage is still legal in 44 states, religious exemptions from mandatory vaccines are legal in 45 states, and many states provide religious exemptions if children die after parents fail to provide reasonable healthcare.)
It was a historic step in our nation when the U.S. House and Senate in December passed a bipartisan resolution, authored by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), co-chair of the Congressional Freethought Caucus, calling for the repeal of blasphemy, heresy and apostasy laws.
But clearly, the United States must do much more. In the case of Pakistan, which has a long history of charging religious minorities and so-called “apostates” with blasphemy, the United States must strongly demand that Pakistan repeal this ignoble law and start honoring freedom of conscience.