So my country is currently exhausting herself with a blasphemy case. It makes me wonder because such case in other countries (Western countries in particular) are not considered a crime because it's a part of the freedom of speech AFAIK.

Is blasphemy really not a crime even though it could be severely offending certain people? Is blasphemy, in and of itself, really not a crime especially under Universal Declaration of Human Rights or international law?

  • 1
    You mean "USA in particular".
    – gnasher729
    Dec 1, 2016 at 8:44
  • @gnasher729, no, I asked about the issue in international context
    – Dorklord
    Dec 4, 2016 at 7:00

3 Answers 3


In the United States, blasphemy is really not a crime even if it severely offends certain people and tends to cause them to want to riot and kill the person who offends them. Most Americans who are familiar with the law and the U.S. Constitution strongly support this policy and think it is obviously right.

Not every country interprets its freedom of speech laws (if it even has freedom of speech laws) in this way. For example, Canada has a law against blasphemy, as do almost all countries which have an official state religion (which is called the "establishment" of a religion).

Also many countries have seemingly contradictory constitutional provisions and courts have to resolve their relative priority. For example, many Muslim countries have constitutions that simultaneously contain a right to freedom of speech and a provision that says that Sharia law is the supreme law of the land (e.g. both Afghanistan and Iraq recently enacted constitutions that say both of those things). A court could decide that the Sharia law provision prevails over freedom of speech in the event that the two conflict, or could reach the opposite conclusion. Nothing on the face of a constitution like that will tell the court how to resolve the issue.

Many other countries have laws against intentionally and publicly offending someone's religious beliefs, which is similar to, but not the same as, a blasphemy law.

Blasphemy, narrowly interpreted, means saying something that contradicts the doctrines of the nation's official religion, without regard to whether it is offensive - so, for example, saying that Mary the Mother of Jesus got pregnant the ordinary way, rather than having a virgin birth, would be blasphemy even if no one was offended by you saying that in a country where Roman Catholicism or Lutheranism or the Anglican Church was the official religion.

A narrow Blasphemy law offends the idea of separation of church and state because it makes the government the ultimate determiner of what the doctrines of the nation's official religion says and allows a government to have an official religion.

It is also notable that there are two parts to the freedom of religion in the United States. One part is the "free exercise clause" which allows people to practice the religion of their choice. The other part is the "establishment clause" which prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another or even favoring being religious over being not religious. The "free exercise clause" is similar to the stance that the Koran takes towards "People of the Book" but applied to any kind of religious belief not just Jews and Christians.

Many conservatives in the United States are strong supporters of the free exercise clause, but think that the establishment clause should only apply to the federal government (so the state and local governments can establish a religion).

Other conservatives think that the establishment clause should only prevent the government from preferring one denomination of Christianity over another denomination, even though the drafters of the constitution and courts ever since then have made clear that this was not the intent of the establishment clause. Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by the President and ratified by the Senate so that it took effect in 1797, just six years after the Bill of Rights was adopted, for example, specifically noted that the freedom of religion in the United States included Muslims.

Many countries have a freedom of religion that protects free exercise but does not have an establishment clause. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights similarly protects only free exercise and does not prohibit governments from having an established religion.

Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights is usually not enforceable in the courts unless a country decides that it will enforce it. It does not usually have the effect of causing the laws of a country to be invalidated the way that an unconstitutional law would be invalidated.

Put another way, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and most other international human rights treaties are usually determined by courts to be not "self-executing". So, it is up to the legislative process in a particular country to decide how to implement human rights if it does so at all. In contrast, Europe has a treaty that is part of the Council of Europe organization with similar provisions, that is binding on member states even if it violates their laws (i.e. it is "self-executing").

  • Today I learn about the self-executing law ;) But it still begs the question : is blasphemy an intrinsic part of the freedom of speech itself?
    – Dorklord
    Dec 1, 2016 at 5:48
  • 1
    I prefer a freedom of speech concept that prohibits blasphemy laws and think this is the most natural way to do so. But, "freedom of speech" is a socially defined concept that has no true meaning apart from what people agree to give it. I recognize that there is more than one way to define it. I think that the U.S. way is best and that other options undermine liberty and freedom of conscience. But, I also recognize that "the best is the enemy of the good." If I lived in Iran, I'd rather have imperfect freedom of speech that protected something, but not everything it should, than none at all.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 1, 2016 at 6:19
  • Umm... Sorry, I'm not a native speaker. Could you please elaborate the last two sentences in simpler language?
    – Dorklord
    Dec 1, 2016 at 6:22
  • 1
    "The best is the enemy of the good" is a saying of Voltaire (he said it in French). It means that making the world better than it is now is more important than insisting on making things perfect, when it is impossible to make things perfect so nothing is done at all (which often happens). So, if you lived somewhere like Iran where not having a blasphemy law was politically impossible to achieve, I'd rather have an imperfect right to free speech that protected non-religious speech, than no right to free speech of any kind. Still, a U.S. style free speech law would be best if it was possible.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 1, 2016 at 6:29
  • Great~ Wish I could live in coutry like the US :( Mind if I share your answer to my FB timeline?
    – Dorklord
    Dec 1, 2016 at 6:30

From Wikipedia:

As of 2012, 33 countries had some form of anti-blasphemy laws in their legal code. Of these, 20 were Muslim-majority nations – Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Maldives, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, the UAE and the Western Sahara. The other twelve nations with anti-blasphemy laws in 2012 were Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, the Netherlands (abolished in 2014), Nigeria, Poland and Singapore.

As there are 195 countries in the world today (not counting Taiwan) that means that in 162 of them you can say "[Religious figure of choice] can go &^%$ him or herself" without fear of criminal prosecution.

How is Indonesia at the moment?

  • I think Wikipedia's list is incomplete. For example, I am pretty sure that Canada has a blasphemy law. centreforinquiry.ca/canadas-blasphemous-libel-law Also many countries do not have a freedom of religion right or a freedom of speech right, even if they don't precisely have a blasphemy law.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 1, 2016 at 5:35
  • @ohwilleke if you can confirm this I suggest you update Wikipeadia
    – Dale M
    Dec 1, 2016 at 5:37
  • 1
    The fuller statement in the article at Wikipedia is that: "As of 2012, anti-blasphemy laws existed in 32 countries, while 87 nations had hate speech laws that covered defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group. Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in Muslim-majority nations, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa, although they are also present in some Asian and European countries." So defamation of religion is not within the narrower definition of blasphemy used for 32 nations. Strictly speaking, Canada has a defamation of religion law.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 1, 2016 at 5:51
  • I'm not 100% sure about blasphemy, but many muslim laws apply to muslims only. For example eating in the day during Ramadan is fine if you are not a muslim (usual rules of politeness apply, and expect that many muslims might not understand very well how muslim laws work).
    – gnasher729
    Dec 1, 2016 at 16:52
  • @gnasher729 nope, the Christian ex-mayor of Jakarta has recently been jailed for blasphemy against Islam
    – Dale M
    Oct 30, 2018 at 18:52

I would like to add that "criminalizing" offensive speech can be extremely problematic.

That's because anyone can pretend they are "offended" even for things that do not normally offend anyone. You can say anything and I can find 1-2% of people that are "offended" with what you said. If that 1-2% have political agenda or are supported by some money, you can go to jail. The 1-2 % of people do not need to be offended. They just need to pretend they are.

This is then used as a political tool to get rid people you don't like.

Countries have anti blasphemy laws, namely muslim countries, are usually more corrupt, or are not democratic. Freedom of speech is so essensial for democracy, removing that so not to "offend" people will make voters seriously missinformed.

A notable blasphemy case is Ahok. Ahok says that people were lying using a verse Al Maidah 51. A verse in Quran.

The context is that Indonesia was a very corrupt country. Then this Jokowi and Ahok become governor and vice governor respectively. Jokowi latter became president of Indonesia. Ahok, a christian, is also very popular in this muslim country.

Ahok and Jokowi reduces corruption effectively. Licensing are made easy. Government budget are jotted down electronically using e-budgeting system. Anyone approving the budget will have to use password so they cannot hide.

I would say that stealing government money in Jakarta becomes more difficult than stealing money from private sectors or even from US government after Ahok and Jokowi.

The result was unbelievable. Rivers are clean. People get free health care. Kids got free education. All the roads are fixed. Floods are greatly reduced because rivers are no longer clogged.

We got cctv in government offices to make sure those lazy officials are working.

And ALL THOSE are done with LESS budget. Ahok simply eliminate frivolous spending that used to be spent by corrupt officials.

enter image description here

You see that picture above? It's a budget to improve "understanding" of Government policy. The figure is about USD 10 billion dollar I've heard. Ahok simply wrote "Pemahaman nenek lu". That means something along "Understanding my ass" in English. The people laugh. But obviously whoever "proposes" that idiotic budget (and most likely go to jail after that), are not very happy with Ahok.

Before, I've heard there is a budget to provide each school with uninteruptible power supply that costs $200k each. This is in a region where most schools do not even have computers. And typical UPS doesn't cost $200k. Such mark up were usual before Ahok and Jokowi. Again, it's blown up by media.

They are both so popular. Jokowi ran for presidency and won. Ahok replaces him.

From secular points of view, they're just great. Ahok's approval rating is 70%. People expected him to win Jakarta gubernatorial election easily.

In fact, many wants Ahok to run as governor without political party as independent candidate. He is so popular and because people picked governor directly, many think he didn't need any support from political party.

If you're in an election against someone like Ahok, winning is not easy. If from secular points of view he is the best governor in Indonesia, why should voters, that are tired of corruption, choose others? Religion.

So people that do not like Ahok uses Al Maidah 51 to persuade muslims not to pick non muslim governors.

One day, Ahok told people that they may be lied to by using Al Maidah 51, a verse in Quran. The muslim fishermen that hear that laugh. Every body knows how corrupt indonesian society used to be.

When suddenly, out of nowhere, people are using 1 thousand years old religion to elect a potentially corrupt governor, people think it's just another trick.

Al Maidah 51 tells muslims not to pick non muslims as "allies". Some people that wants Ahok falls interpret this verse to mean muslims cannot pick Ahok, a christian as governor, in election.

Notice. Ahok didn't claim that the quranic verse is a lie. He also didn't say that those who say that muslims cannot pick him is lying. He's talking about the bigger context in general.

There are corrupt politicians, and those corrupt politicians use religions to steal people's money. Those corrupt politicians won't say honestly hei, I want to steal money so you shouldn't pick Ahok. Those politicians use religions to motivate people to select candidates within their pockets. It's an old trick. And I think we can all agree that such tricks count as "lying".

Of course, we know that the Saudis ally with US. Bashar allied with Syria. Even Indonesian's muslim's political party will support non muslims as governor somewhere else. It's simply applied to Jakarta 2017 gubernatorial election by a religion that was born and "completed" before any countries have election.

So yes. It is reasonable to think that the ulama that uses Al Maidah 51 to persuade muslims not to pick Ahok is lying or at least not objective. However, that was not what Ahok said.

From the context, it's clear that some corrupt officials will use religions to get "their man" to be governor. It happened previously before according to wikileak. https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07JAKARTA568_a.html


Even Ahok's opponent's say that people lie using religions. The sunni says that the syiah is lying. And so on and so on.

However, Ahok is a very popular governor in Jakarta and many corrupt officials do not like his rules.

So they spin Ahok's statement to mean that the quranic text it self or the interpretation of which is "lying". Also they claimed that it's not "appropriate" for Ahok, a christian, to comment about other religions.

And this gets Ahok's 2 years jail time.

So basically, Ahok suggest that some corrupt officials try to get their cronies elected by using religions. His opponent claim that Ahok claims, that religious leaders are lying when they interpret religions. And they claim that it's "offensive." And Ahok got 2 years in jail.

Basically, anything you said can be used against you if "somebody" is "offended". Your words can offend 1% of the population and you're in jail. In fact, the real reason is not that your words truly offend anyone.

Many people that want Ahok jailed are latter caught doing corruption. It's pretty obvious they have axes to grind. Their corrupt dealing will be in trouble if Ahok won governorship and become, say, ministers, for example. So of course they wanted Ahok to fall.

During Anies' regime, a lot of "unusual" budget are spent. Anies distribute money for "mass organization" with no clear rules why such organizations got money.

It's not really religion that motivate people to hurt Ahok. It's money. Corrupt officials want Ahok falls.

Most people in US is aware of this rubber laws. If freedom of speech is to be limited, the limit will be vague. Also it prevents healthy discussions of social issues that's important in democracy.


You can read more about Ahok here


Oh ya, the election for Jakarta governor is so important people called that "Governatorial election that feels like presidential election". The secular lost big in that election. They don't just lost election, Ahok went to jail, not by votes, but by decisions made by a few unelected judges.

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