WHY BLASPHEMY AND ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS ARE WRONG
Blasphemy laws and anti-conversion laws are common in the constitutions and/or legal systems of Muslim nations. Blasphemy laws are laws which prosecute individuals for making disparaging remarks against Mohammed or the Koran. Anti-conversion laws are laws which prohibit a person from changing from one religion to another. There are many cases of such prosecution being directed towards religious minorities, such as Christians. Is it the responsibility or right of governments and courts to punish speech that in some way may be deemed as blasphemy? Such a question strikes at the issue of personal conscience. A person's personal conscience challenges them to know what they believe and, also, to know what they do not believe, and to take a stand for these convictions. Such a stand is often met with opposition and may even be met with violence. When legal or governmental authorities are delivering such opposition and violence towards people for expressing their conscientious convictions, they are likely overstepping the boundaries of what their authority should legitimately be. Then men and women with screaming inner consciences have choices to make. They could declare their feelings or hold them in. They could speak what they believe or they could dismiss what they believe. At the end of life, they will feel shame or peace for what they stood for and, surely, one will feel greater satisfaction for standing for moral or for spiritual convictions than the person who rarely, or never, stood for anything. Most of us will not shrink back from stating a conviction as long as the consequences for doing so are minor. When the stakes for declaring personal beliefs are high, then a person reaches a crossroads of conscience. History is filled with martyrs who have been censored, rejected and burned at the stake. However, modern times also have their martyrs and their stories are no less dramatic. Men and women who stand by their consciences feel that intensity inwardly if they dare to put forward their beliefs in the public world. 1 One famous quote on conscience was that of Martin Luther who declared:
I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is held captive by the word of God; and as it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience, I cannot and will not retract anything. Here I stand; I cannot otherwise; God help me. Amen. 2
Like Luther in his day, many today have been pressured to abandon spiritual convictions, ironically, by religious and civil authorities. They found human religious authorities interjecting themselves between God and man. The decision to resist such an interjection never comes easily. Convictions are often trampled upon in defence of custom, tradition and prejudice. Those who hold their convictions precious enough not to allow them to be changed or silenced, in many cases, become trampled upon themselves. Yet, the belief that it is neither safe nor right to act against conscience has led many men and women to take courageous stands, regardless of the consequences. In doing so, is the making of heroes and martyrs. There have always been those who have swum against the tide of their surrounding culture simply because of pride or stubbornness. However, when humble intent on following God and one's conscience is the reason for contradicting surrounding culture, what can be said? When humble men and women are willing to suffer false accusation, incarceration, isolation and even physical mistreatment, it may be because they are holding on to something worth both living and dying for. 3
Blasphemy laws and anti-conversion laws stand in the way of conscience and suppress the free expression of faith. Blasphemy laws rob people of their humanity by making them subservient to beliefs that contradict their values. Blasphemy laws are dehumanizing. Blasphemy laws and anti-conversion laws have been used to justify horrific punishment and even death penalties. Many courageous souls have stood against Islamic legal abuse and have spoken against blasphemy laws and anti-conversion laws. They have chosen not to shrink back. They have come to the crossroads of conscience and have chosen to follow conscience, no matter the cost. They have concluded that it is no longer safe nor right to act against conscience. May we, who have the freedom of speech and conscience, use our freedom to stand up for those who are struggling to be free.
Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, 3rd Ed. (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1999), pg 1.
Martin Luther, quoted in Raymond Franz, Crisis of Conscience, 3rd Ed. (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1999), pg 2.
Raymond Franz, Ibid.
Franz, Raymond. Crisis of Conscience. 3rd Ed. Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1999.