We have previously discussed the scourge of blasphemy laws, particularly in Muslim nations, used to punish and even execute people with differing views of religion. We have a deeply disturbing new case outside of Lahore, Pakistan where a Christian couple was accused of desecrating the Koran (Quran), beaten by a mob, and then burnt in a brick kiln where they worked. The couple, known only as Shama and Shehzad, were killed at the behest of a local Muslim mullah in Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres from Lahore.
One promising aspect to this story is that the police have actually made 44 arrests and identified some 468 others who might be involved. The government has called for prosecutions and a committee has been set up.
However, the greatest step would be for Pakistan to eliminate all blasphemy laws from its own books. It is not just the murders but the underlying allegation that is offensive. By allowing people to be arrested for blasphemy, the government reinforces the view that people should be punished for religious views and expressions. This point was made by Louis Brandeis:
Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution. Against that pernicious doctrine this court should resolutely set its face.
Dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).
I am relieved to read of the arrested but Pakistan has to make a choice in whether to join the modern world and stand with free speech and free exercise against blasphemy and apostasy laws. For many years, I have been writing about the threat of an international blasphemy standard and the continuing rollback on free speech in the West. For recent columns, click here and here and here.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt and Pakistan to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
These cases reflect the true purpose of blasphemy laws: to silence minority sects and religious critics in the name of a “true faith.” Fortunately the effort of Hillary Clinton and others in the Administration to reach a compromise on blasphemy failed, though there continue to be efforts to create an international standard.
Recently, we discussed a Christian pastor accused of blasphemy who was shot and killed in a Pakistani jail by a guard.