The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
My post yesterday condemning the Polish and Malaysian decisions upholding blasphemy laws yielded, among others, this comment:
There is a tremendous difference between one law mandating civility and another criminalizing heterodoxy.
I am shocked, and to no small extent disappointed, that the two are deemed equivalent. It as though someone thought it necessary to "balance" an account of Mohammadan atavistic barbarity with what was supposed to the equivalent in a predominantly christian country. In the Malaysian case, it is as though someone were being jailed for putting out a book without the proper Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat endorsements. The Polish court would let you say that a particular religious doctrine is false, just that you have to be nice about it. Big difference,
The Polish prosecution upheld criminal liability for publicly saying that the speaker believed "more in dinosaurs than in the Bible as it's difficult to believe in something that was written by a guy wasted on wine, who smoked pot." Here are my questions prompted by the comment (which I ask in part because my experience has been that quite a few people have a similar reaction to the commenter's):
1. Would those who take this view say that referring to "Mohammadan atavistic barbarity" is "nice" enough that it should be protected, or sufficiently lacking "civility" that it can be criminalized? If saying that the Bible "was written by a guy wasted on wine, who smoked pot" is sufficiently uncivil to be criminally punishable, wouldn't talking about "Mohammadan atavistic barbarity" also qualify?
2. Are police officers and courts applying blasphemy laws likely to define the "nice" vs. not "nice" line fairly and predictably?
3. Would it be good to have that limit criticisms of political ideas—capitalism, socialism, feminism, environmentalism—to "nice" criticisms, and outlaw criticisms that aren't "civil"? If not, why should criticisms of religious ideas—ideas that affect society as much (and sometimes as harmfully) as political ideas do—be more restrictable?