FFRF defends “blasphemous” AMC show

1AMC Preacher

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is standing up for a popular TV show accused of blasphemy.

State Sen. John Milkovich and two Baptist preachers, Larry Pridmore and Edward Roberts, have recently urged “the Louisiana Office of Economic Development to flatly reject [a] request for a $16.2 million tax refund check” for the AMC show “Preacher.” The complainants have stated their case plainly in the last sentence of their letter: “[T]he larger truth is that there is never a good time to reward production companies that trash our Louisiana values, mock our beliefs — and dishonor Christ.”

The trio is complaining about an episode of the show that aired many months ago, on Aug. 21, 2017, claiming it shouldn’t be eligible for tax credits intended to encourage film production to Louisiana. They attempt to argue that one scene of less than five minutes, in an episode 44 minutes in length, in a season of 13 episodes, in a show with three seasons, constitutes “pornography” and that therefore all the tax incentives for the entire series should be revoked. The scene in question portrays Jesus having sex with a woman the night before he is to be crucified, and it is graphic with graphic dialogue. But graphic is not the same as pornographic and, in any event, the complainants’ true concern is a perceived insult to their religion, not the sexual content.

It’s obvious that the attack on the show as pornography is a pretext, FFRF charges. The Federal Communications Commission allowed the show to air, as did the network. Sen. Milkovich and his Baptist allies may not think the show is appropriate but that is not their call and true concern. Instead, the complainants are seeking to penalize AMC and “Preacher” for the nonexistent crime of “blasphemy.”

“If the Louisiana government were to take action against AMC to protect the sensibilities of a particular religious group or belief, it would violate the duty of neutrality regarding religion that the First Amendment imposes on all governmental actions,” FFRF Director of Strategic Response Andrew Seidel writes to Louisiana Office of Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson

Governments have no business, indeed no authority, to protect religion from criticism or even mockery, as the U.S. Supreme Court recognized more than 65 years ago:

“It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures.” Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952)

A federal court in Pennsylvania took up a case similar to this in 2010. George Kalman wanted to name his film company “I Choose Hell Productions.” His choice was rejected by the state because it was deemed “blasphemous.” The court held that this denial violated both the Establishment and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. (Kalman v. Cortes, 2010)

The letter objecting to the show calls to mind the unconstitutional blasphemy laws some states used to have. In overturning a law punishing “profane words of and concerning our Saviour Jesus Christ,” a court wrote that the state’s effort “to extend its protective cloak to the Christian religion or to any other religion is forbidden by the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.”

Any attempt to penalize the network for a few minutes of air time that some consider blasphemous will violate the First Amendment, FFRF asserts. The government cannot punish a company with the equivalent of a multimillion dollar fine because a few individuals feel offended.

“Blasphemy is a victimless crime,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The state of Louisiana is a secular entity — and must act accordingly.”

FFRF is asking the Louisiana Office of Economic Development to reject this pretext of a complaint.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 33,000 members across the country, including in Louisiana. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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