'All for ourselves and nothing for other people' seems in every age of the world to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind. -Adam Smith "All the 'truth' in the world adds up to one big lie." Bob Dylan "Idealism precedes experience, cynicism follows it." Anon

October 25, 2010

The Center for Inquiry Announces Blasphemy Contest Winners

Chain The Dogma    November 20, 2009

by Perry Bulwer

I was recently a runner-up in a blasphemy contest held as part of The Center for Inquiry's campaign for free expression, and in conjunction with commemorations for Blasphemy Day International. Although the contest was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and there was no consensus within humanist/atheist circles that such a contest was appropriate, which is what you would expect amongst free-thinkers, the contest addressed a very serious development. Ever since the uproar over Danish editorial cartoons four years ago, Islamic countries have been working to enact anti-blasphemy laws. And it is not just Islamic countries. Recently, the Irish government has also been toying with the idea of criminalizing blasphemy. The human rights and free speech aspects of this trend towards outlawing the ridicule of religious beliefs is what prompted me to enter the contest. I happened to win a t-shirt (woo hoo!) but that's not why I entered. I could care less about a prize. What I was really interested in was creating a meme, and then watching to see how far it would spread. My winning entry? "I Survived the God Virus". I mean that in a very literal way; I know many people who did not survive that deadly infection. Unlike the other winning entries, mine makes most sense to those, like me, who are former believers who have escaped the God delusion. Following is the official announcement of the contest winners.

CFI Announces Blasphemy Contest Winners

November 16, 2009

The Center for Inquiry is pleased to announce that Ken Peters of California is the Grand Prize winner of its Blasphemy Contest, which asked contestants to submit statements of no more than twenty words critical of religious beliefs. The entry Mr. Peters submitted was: “Faith is no reason.” Regarding Mr. Peters’ entry, CFI president and CEO Ronald A. Lindsay observes, “This entry, using only four words, summarizes nicely one of the key principles of post-Enlightenment thought. Beliefs should be based on evidence and reason. Faith is not a basis for logically sound belief.”

In addition to the Grand Prize winner, there were four other winners.

“There’s no religion like no religion,” submitted by Daniel Boles of Thailand;

“I wouldn’t even follow your god on Twitter,” submitted by Michael Hein of South Carolina;

“The reason religious beliefs need protection from ridicule is that they are ridiculous,” submitted by Michael Nugent of Ireland; and

“I survived the God virus,” submitted by Perry Bulwer of British Columbia, Canada.

All top five winners will receive a CFI T-shirt with their submission imprinted on the shirt. Ken Peters, the Grand Prize winner, will also receive a coffee mug with his slogan and he will be officially recognized in a forthcoming issue of Free Inquiry, the magazine published by CFI’s affiliate, the Council for Secular Humanism. Also, as indicated in the contest rules, Ken Peters will likely be able to look forward to eternal damnation, although that prize is not entirely within CFI’s control.

The T-shirts featuring the individual winning phrases can be viewed and ordered for purchase in the CFI On-line Store.

Many will recall that when CFI decided in September to hold a contest in conjunction with its commemoration of International Blasphemy Day, it generated a firestorm of controversy. Some observers claimed that CFI was soliciting hate speech, and they likened CFI to Nazis publishing anti-Semitic attacks.

CFI rejected those mischaracterizations then and continues to reject them now. “In holding a blasphemy contest, we wished to underscore our position that religious beliefs are subject to examination and criticism, just like other beliefs,” said Lindsay. “Sometimes that criticism may take the form of a scholarly essay; sometimes the criticism may take the form of a pithy, pointed remark. Both are appropriate forms of free expression.”

In its contest, CFI emphasized it wanted clever, concise statements that might capture some of the flaws of religious beliefs. CFI was not interested in crude attacks on believers. Overall, CFI was not disappointed in quality of the entries.

Nor was CFI disappointed in the quantity of entries. About 650 individuals submitted well over 1,000 entries (contestants could submit two entries). In fact, deciding which entries deserved to make it into the top five was difficult. Accordingly, the judges have decided that the following entries deserved honorable mention.


"Think outside the pew."
Gerry Stearns

"GodLess is more."
Harout Markarian

"Minds harbor incongruous memes:
Religion and fairytale dreams.
Relentlessly nutty,
They turn brains to putty,
Inculcating scurrilous schemes."
Kate Jones

"A fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'
A wise man shouts it from the rooftops."
Mark Palmer

"Jesus has all the answers...to your vague, non-specific questions to which you already know the answer."
aaoe98 (no name accompanied the email)

"God is incredible."
J. Laudig and George Tipton (submitted separately)

"A perplexing entity, God
Exhibited properties odd
A generous savior
With wrathful behavior
Both Barney and Marquis de Sade."
Tim Harrod

:–) <-- Muhammad
Nicholas Rinard

"Religion is the blasphemy of reality."

"Our Father, Heavenly King
Stop watching me sleep.
It's creepy.
Jacky Chow

Finally, the judges decided that a blasphemous joke uttered by CFI Founder Paul Kurtz at a CFI event in early November merited special mention—even though the joke is longer than twenty words, it was made after the contest ended, Dr. Kurtz is disqualified from making an entry, and Dr. Kurtz never formally submitted the joke as an entry. But, hey, it’s our contest. Anyway, here’s the joke:

A priest and a nun went golfing. On the priest's first swing, the ball went wide of the green.

"Shit," said the priest. "I missed!"

"Oh Father, please don't speak like that," said the nun. "God wouldn't like it."

On the priest's second swing, the ball went into the rough.

"Shit," said the priest. "I missed!"

"Oh Father, you mustn't curse," said the nun. "God will strike you dead if you use such language."

On the priest's third swing, the ball went right into the water hazard.

"Shit," said the priest. "I missed!"

Suddenly it got very dark. Black clouds boiled up. There was a flash of lightning, an ear-splitting crack of thunder.

And the nun was gone.

"Shit," said a great voice from above. "I missed!"

Note that when Dr. Kurtz told this joke, he decorously substituted “merde” for “shit” about halfway through. But we don’t want to imply that God is French. Not even the French deserve that.

CFI thanks everyone who took the time to submit an entry. Your participation helped make the contest a success.




  1. Indian skeptic charged with blasphemy for revealing secret behind "miracle" of weeping cross

    By Cory Doctorow April 13, 2012

    Sanal Edamaruku, an Indian skeptic, went to Mumbai and revealed that a "miraculous" weeping cross was really just a bit of statuary located near a leaky drain whose liquid reached it by way of capillary action. The local Catholic Church demanded that he retract his statements, and when he refused, they had him arrested for blasphemy.


    On 10th March, Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Rationalist International, flew to Mumbai. The TV channel TV-9 had invited him to investigate a “miracle” that caused local excitement. He went with the TV team to Irla in Vile Parle to inspect the crucifix standing there in front of the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni. This crucifix had become the centre of attraction for an ever growing crowd of believers coming from far and wide. The news of the miracle spread like wild fire. For some days, there were little droplets of water trickling from Jesus’ feet. Hundreds of people came every day to pray and collect some of the “holy water” in bottles and vessels. Sanal Edamaruku identified the source of the water (a drainage near a washing room) and the mechanism how it reached Jesus feet (capillary action). The local church leaders, present during his investigation, appeared to be displeased.

    Some hours later, in a live program on TV-9, Sanal explained his findings and accused the concerned Catholic Church officials of miracle mongering, as they were beating the big drum for the drippling Jesus statue with aggressive PR measures and by distributing photographs certifying the “miracle”. A heated debate began, in which the five church people, among them Fr. Augustine Palett, the priest of Our Lady of Velankanni church, and representatives of the Association of Concerned Catholics (AOCC) demanded that Sanal apologize. But Sanal refused and argued against them. [The whole TV program is recorded. You can watch an abridged version of it on YouTube.]

    When they saw Sanal refused to bow to their demands, they threatened to file a blasphemy case against him. And they did. Yesterday (10th April,2012) Sanal received a phone call from a Police official of Juhu Police Station in Mumbai directing him to come to the said police station to face the charges and get arrested. He also said that FIRs have also been filed in Andheri and some other police stations u/s 295 of Indian Penal Code on the allegations of hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community. Mumbai police has announced that they were out to arrest him. It is apprehended that he can be arrested any moment.



    Letter from Sanal Edamaruka defence committee


  2. Change.org Human Rights Petition

    We call on the Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay to encourage the withdrawal of complaints against Indian Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku

    Please join the Rationalist Association (UK) in condemning the misuse of Indian law by several Catholic organisations to silence a campaigner against superstition. In March 2012, following his exposure of a supposed miracle at a Catholic Church in Mumbai as nothing more than the result of a leak, a complaint was lodged against Sanal Edamaruku by local Catholic organisations with the Mumbai police, who are now able to arrest him. He has been denied 'anticipatory' bail which means if arrested he faces a long term in prison merely for explaining the science behind an apparent mystery.

    Sanal Edamaruku, President of the Indian Rationalist Association, has for decades been a tireless campaigner for science and against superstition. He is widely known for his exposure of the tricks used by self-professed ‘God-Men’ and gurus and has often been on Indian television explaining the everyday science behind supposed miracles.

    After one such exposure – he pointed out that "miraculous" water dripping from a statue of Christ at the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Velan Kanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai in fact originated from a leaky pipe – Mr Edamaruku was widely condemned by the Catholic authorities in Mumbai, with the Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay, Agnelo Rufino Gracias calling on him to apologise for "hurting" the Catholic community. Formal complaints about Mr Edamaruku were then made to the Mumbai police by three local Catholic groups, the Catholic Secular Forum, the Association of Concerned Catholics and the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum.

    He stands accused of “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community”, an offence under Section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code. No arrest warrant has been issued but the case is "cognisable" meaning the police can arrest without warrant at any time. He is being harassed daily by the Mumbai authorities who, under pressure from Catholic groups, are insisting that he turn himself in. His petition for “anticipatory bail” was turned down on 3 June 2012 on the bizarre grounds that he would be safer in custody. If he is arrested he will therefore most likely be detained in jail until court proceedings are concluded, which could take several years. Fearing arrest, he dares not stay long at home or work.

    continued in next comment...

  3. continued from previous comment:

    India has long suffered sectarian hatred and violence and section 295(a) is designed to prevent speech being used to foment hatred and disorder. It is not designed to enable a powerful religious institution to silence those whose message it finds embarrassing. India’s constitution explicitly protects free speech: article 19(a) guarantees the right to free speech and expression and clause 13(2) forbids the state to pass laws which take away or abridge such rights. It follows that the courts of India are required to interpret the Penal Code so as to protect free speech. Mr Edamaruku would be happy to answer his accusers in court, confident that the Indian justice system will vindicate him. However the threat of peremptory imprisonment for an undefined period is a very serious one.

    We call on the Catholic authorities in Mumbai, particularly the Archbishop and Auxiliary Bishop of Mumbai, to clarify their Church's position on the attempts to silence Mr Edamaruku's criticisms through legal channels, and ask them to use their influence with local Catholics to encourage them to publicly withdraw their complaints.

    We call also on the Vatican and the global Catholic community to make known their opposition to the conduct of the Catholic Secular Forum, the Association of Concerned Catholics and the Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum .

    Finally we call on the government of India, the world’s largest democracy, to defend free speech by making it clear that their laws are not to be used to suppress scientific knowledge and reasonable criticism of religious mysticism. We ask them to intercede to ensure this matter is settled without further harassment of a courageous and honest man.



  4. Prison term for Indonesian atheist who posted views on religion online

    New Humanist June 15, 2012

    An Indonesian man who posted his atheist views on Facebook has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty of "deliberately spreading information inciting religious hatred and animosity". He was also fined the equivalent of 10,000 US dollars.

    As we reported on this blog earlier this year, Alexander Aan was arrested in January in his home town of in his hometown of Pulau Punjung in western Sumatra, having posted "God doesn't exist"on a Facebook page. He was also accused of posting cartoon strips deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

    In passing the sentence, the presiding judge Eka Prasetya Budi Dharma told the the Muaro Sijunjung district court in western Sumatra that Aan had "caused anxiety to the community and tarnished Islam".

    Prosecutors had sought a lengthier jail sentence for Aan, but in finding him guilty of inciting religious hatred, the court dropped two additional, less serious charges of blasphemy and persuading others to embrace atheism.

    While Indonesian law guarantees citizens freedom of religion, it only protects those who follow Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism or Hinduism, leaving those who publicly express their atheism vulnerable to the kinds of charges brought against Aan.

    Ever since his arrest, Aan has received support from atheists and human rights activists around the world. The Atheist Alliance International has been collecting donations for a legal fund, and they are still urging people to contribute in the wake of Aan's conviction. They are also providing contact details [PDF] that can be used to contact the Indonesian authorities to express concern about the case.


  5. Pakistani girl accused of Qur'an burning could face death penalty

    Jon Boone in Islamabad, The Guardian August 19, 2012

    An 11-year-old Christian Pakistani girl could face the death penalty under the country's notorious blasphemy laws, after she was accused by her neighbours of deliberately burning sacred Islamic texts.

    Rifta Masih was arrested on Thursday, after complaints against her prompted angry demonstrations. Asif Ali Zardari, the president, has ordered the interior ministry to investigate the case.

    As communal tensions continued to rise, about 900 Christians living on the outskirts of Islamabad have been ordered to leave a neighbourhood where they have lived for almost two decades.

    On Sunday, houses on the backstreets of Mehrabadi, an area 20 minutes' drive from western embassies and government ministries, were locked with padlocks, their occupants having fled to already overcrowded Christian slums in and around the capital.

    One of the senior members of the dominant Muslim community told the Christians to remove all their belongings from their houses by 1 September. "I don't think anyone will dare go back after this," said one Christian, Arif Masih. "The area is not safe for us now."

    A few brave souls have stayed behind, but shopkeepers have refused to serve their Christian neighbours or supply them with water. Locals say only about 10% of families in the area are Christian, renting cramped houses from Muslim landlords. They tend to do dirty, menial jobs such as sewer maintenance.

    Relations between the communities had been simmering for months after complaints were made about the noise coming from three churches in the area during religious services. Two of the landlords who owned the buildings had already ordered an end to worship and some services were forcibly broken up.

    But there was no indication that all the Christians would be forced out so suddenly until Rifta was accused of the provocative act of burning the sacred words of Islam.

    It sparked immediate demonstrations by crowds estimated at between 600 and 1,000 people, some of whom blocked the nearby Kashmir highway, the major road running west out of the capital.

    The police, initially unwilling to take action, eventually charged the girl with blasphemy and took her into custody. The rest of the community, including her parents, fled.

    As with many other aspects of the incident, there is disagreement about exactly what was burned. Some say it was a small pocket book of Qur'anic verses. Others claim it was pages of the Qur'an. Either it was a relatively small quantity of ash carried in an earthenware dish, or it was around half a kilogram of refuse that filled a small plastic shopping bag.

    Hammad Malik, a 23-year-old with a shaven head and bushy beard who is deemed a "scoundrel" by the Christian community, said he saw Rifta walking out of the tiny, single-room dwelling where she lived with her parents and sister at some time after 6pm. He said it was pure chance that he noticed her bundle.

    "I looked at it but did not know exactly what it was but I could see it had words written in Arabic," he said.

    He concedes that no one actually saw her burning anything as the offence allegedly happened inside the house, and she was caught while finding somewhere to throw away the remains. However, the local mullah claims there was a witness: another young girl who caught her in the act and then ran to the mosque to raise the alarm.

    continued in next comment...

  6. continued from previous comment:

    One thing the Muslim community does agree on is that claims in the local media, sourced to the police, that the girl has Down's syndrome are false.

    "She is a completely normal girl," said Kamran Khan, cousin of the Masih family's landlord. As the largely male and grownup crowd gathered outside the house, a girl who said she knew Rifta said she did behave oddly – she talked to herself and walked in a peculiar way.

    The other point of general agreement is that "the law should be followed". Unfortunately, the law in question is Pakistan's blasphemy law, which has a proven track record of ensnaring people on the flimsiest of evidence and being cynically used to intimidate communities or settle quarrels over money and property.

    Even though no one has yet been executed for blasphemy in Pakistan, long prison terms are common – one Christian couple was sentenced to 25 years in 2010 after being accused of touching the Qur'an with unwashed hands.

    There have also been cases of people killed by lynch mobs demanding instant punishment. Daring to criticise the law is incredibly risky and few do it.

    In 2011, Salman Taseer, the former governor of Punjab province, was gunned down by his own bodyguard after he spoke out against the case of Aasia Bibi, another Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

    The Christian community of Mehrabadi says the whole thing is a plot. They too have conflicting accounts of what happened. In one version, according to priest Boota Masih, a Muslim neighbour asked the girl to throw out the ash into which the desecrated pages had been placed.

    Either way, one hotly contested incident involving a very young girl looks set to change the complexion of the neighbourhood for ever.

    "They have done this to provoke the Muslims, like they have with their noisy banging and singing from their churches," said a local mullah, who would not give his name. "We are not upset the Christians have left and we will be pleased if they don't come back."


  7. Pakistani President Seeks Report On Girl's Blasphemy Case

    By Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty August 23, 2012

    Pakistan's president has called on officials to explain the arrest on blasphemy charges of a Christian girl with Down syndrome.

    The girl -- reportedly just 11 or 12 years old -- allegedly burned pages inscribed with verses from the Koran.

    Police said the girl, Rimsha, was arrested in a Christian slum of Islamabad on August 16 and remanded in custody for 14 days.

    A crowd of angry Muslims had demanded she be punished.

    State-run media reports said President Asif Ali Zardari has taken "serious note" of the case and called on the Interior Ministry to submit a report.

    Some reports suggested the girl had been burning papers collected from the rubbish for cooking when someone entered her house and accused the family of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Koran.

    Rimsha's house was locked from the outside on August 20 and no one was at home, a reporter for the AFP news agency said. Neighbors were reluctant to speak about the incident, saying that they had not witnessed the alleged desecration themselves.

    A senior official of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, told AFP that Christians who fled for shelter with relatives elsewhere in Islamabad were now gradually returning to the slum called Mehrabad.

    The girl has Down syndrome -- a condition which causes various degrees of learning difficulties -- and is not yet a teenager.

    The Women's Action Forum, a leading Pakistani organization fighting for the rights of women, condemned Rimsha's arrest.

    Spokeswoman Tahira Abdullah demanded her immediate release and expressed outrage at the "total inhumanity" of the men who lodged the case with police.

    The 2011 assassinations of a leading Pakistani politician and a Christian cabinet minister have been linked to their public opposition to strict antiblasphemy laws. They had taken up the plight of a Christian mother sentenced to death for blasphemy in late 2010. She remains in prison.

    The murders renewed concerns about religious intolerance in Pakistan, where minority groups have faced numerous attacks by militants of the Sunni Muslim majority.

    Last month, a mob snatched a mentally unstable man from a village police station and beat him to death in central Punjab Province after he allegedly burned pages from a Koran.

    Under the blasphemy laws, a conviction for defaming Islam or desecrating the Koran can be punishable by death.

    With reporting by AP and AFP


  8. Police: Muslim cleric framed girl in Pakistan blasphemy case

    From Nasir Habib, CNN September 2, 2012

    Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani police say a Muslim cleric planted evidence to link a Christian girl to blasphemy -- a new twist in a case that has fanned flames of religious tension in the country and attracted worldwide interest.

    The imam, Khalid Jadoon Chishti, will himself face blasphemy charges for tearing pages out of a Quran to use as evidence against the girl, Islambad police chief Bin Yamin said.

    The latest development may make it easier for the girl, 14-year-old Rimsha, to be released on bail at her next court hearing.

    Police arrested Rimsha last month after a neighbor accused her of burning pages containing texts from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

    Rimsha had two shopping bags with her: one containing ashes and the other, the partially burned pages, police said. She had gathered the paper as fuel for cooking, authorities said.

    Even though Rimsha's lawyer said no one actually saw the girl burning the papers, the neighbor went to Chishti -- the neighborhood cleric -- with the bags for safekeeping as evidence.

    Chishti wasn't certain that simply burning pages with texts from the Quran would be enough to convict Rimsha on blasphemy charges, said Munir Jaffery, the investigating officer in the case.

    So, the imam added two pages from the holy book itself to the bag to bolster the case, Jaffery said.

    Police arrested Chishti on Saturday after three witnesses told a judge about the imam's actions.
    He was sent to jail for 14 days, accused of evidence tampering.

    Chishti has denied the allegation, authorities said.

    Yamin, the police chief, drew a distinction between the accusations against the two, saying Rimsha is a simple-minded minor, while the imam is highly educated in religious studies and indulged in the act of blasphemy willfully.

    Insulting Islam provokes widespread and immediate reaction in Pakistan, a predominantly Muslim nation. Its controversial blasphemy law makes the crime punishable by death. Critics have said the legislation is being used to entrap minorities.

    Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, who criticized the law, was shot to death by his security guard last year. A Pakistani court then suspended the guard's death sentence.

    In Rimsha's case, about 150 people gathered on August 17 -- the day she was arrested -- in the area where the neighborhood's Christian population lives and threatened to burn down their houses, police said.

    Her relatives have gone into hiding.

    During a tense hearing Saturday, Muslim lawyers demanding that Rimsha remain in jail got into a shouting match with the judge. They provided a list of reasons the girl should be detained, including questioning whether the girl gave her lawyer the power of attorney.

    continued in next comment...

  9. continued from previous comment...

    A judge ordered investigators to get more details on her power of attorney and postponed the hearing to Monday.

    Before Saturday, a decision was supposed to come Thursday, but was deferred so authorities could answer questions about her medical history.
    "All these are the delaying tactics by the lawyers of the complainant to keep the girl in jail," said her lawyer, Tahir Naveed Choudhry.

    Her lawyers dashed into a car and sped off after the hearing Saturday for safety reasons. Rimsha did not attend.

    Pakistani authorities have come under pressure to guarantee Rimsha's safety amid concerns that if she is released on bail, angry Muslims will seek retaliation.

    Choudhry has sought bail, saying she is legally a minor and should be reunited with her parents rather than kept in a jail with adults.

    He cited a report by an independent medical board stating that the girl is 14. The doctors who examined her also concluded that her mental age was lower than her chronological age and she suffers from Down syndrome, he said.

    Police have said the girl is illiterate and denied knowing there were Quran verses on the documents she allegedly burned.

    Choudhry says he expects the trial to last as long as two years. Rimsha would remain in custody for its duration if bail is denied, he said.

    If she is tried as a minor, she might receive a milder sentence if convicted. As an adult, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for blasphemy, the lawyer said.

    The imam's arrest may prompt a reexamination of the allegations against the girl, authorities said Sunday.

    "We have strong evidence against (the cleric)," said Naveed Chaudhry, an adviser to Pakistan's president. "(Rimshi's) lawyer is going to court for bail. She might be released by Monday based on this evidence."


  10. Pakistan frees Christian girl accused of burning pages of Islam's holy book


    RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - A young Christian girl accused of burning pages of Islam's holy book was freed Saturday from a jail near the capital where she had been held for three weeks, a Pakistani jail official said.

    The release a day after a judge granted her bail is another step closer to ending an episode that has focused an uncomfortable spotlight on Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which can result in life in prison or even death for defendants. Many critics say the laws are misused to wage vendettas or target Pakistan's vulnerable minorities like the Christians.

    The jail official, Mushtaq Awan, said the girl left the prison in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad amid tight security.

    An Associated Press reporter on the scene said she was taken from the prison in an armoured vehicle and whisked to a waiting helicopter while covered with a sheet to protect her identity.

    A Muslim cleric from her neighbourhood was arrested last week for planting evidence to incriminate the girl, an about-face in a case that has drawn strong international condemnation. Even in Pakistan where there is significant support for punishing people accused of desecrating the Qur’an or insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammed, the girl's age and questions about her mental state have earned her a degree of public sympathy often lacking in other blasphemy cases.

    Her lawyers say they will now push to have the case against her thrown out entirely.

    "Her parents were with her when she was freed from the jail, and she has been taken to a safer place," said a member of her legal team, Tahir Naveed Chaudhry.

    The girl's release came a day after a judge in Islamabad granted bail to the mentally challenged girl, a move hailed by the human right activists and representatives of Pakistan's minority Christian community. Bail is rarely granted in blasphemy cases, and the decision signals a degree of sympathy that could result in all the charges being dropped.

    The girl, who medical officials say is 14 years old, was arrested Aug. 16, shortly after hundreds of angry Muslims surrounded her house, and accused her of burning pages from the Qur’an, an act punishable by life in prison. Her lawyer has denied the allegation.

    But in a sudden turn-around, police arrested a cleric after a follower from his mosque accused him of stashing pages of a Qur’an in the girl's bag to make it seem as if she burned them. He allegedly planted the evidence to push Christians out of the neighbourhood and is now being investigated for blasphemy himself. He has denied the allegation.

    The arrest was applauded as a rare occurrence when blasphemy accusers are held responsible for false claims.

    In his ruling granting bail, the judge wrote that the arrest of the cleric cast serious doubt on the prosecution's case. He also said she was a minor, had mental challenges and that it was "not believable" that she had intentionally burnt the Quranic verses. On those grounds, he decided to grant the bail.

    The tight security present during her release is a sign that authorities are taking her safety seriously in light of previous attacks on people accused of blasphemy. Two prominent politicians were gunned down last year for suggesting the blasphemy laws should be amended to prevent misuse. The killer of one of the politicians was later lauded by supporters who threw rose petals whenever he appeared at court.

    A man in the central Pakistani city of Bahawalpur was beaten to death in July by an angry mob after he was accused of blasphemy.


  11. On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God

    by Sam Harris September 19, 2012


    The latest wave of Muslim hysteria and violence has now spread to over twenty countries. The walls of our embassies and consulates have been breached, their precincts abandoned to triumphant mobs, and many people have been murdered—all in response to an unwatchable Internet video titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Whether over a film, a cartoon, a novel, a beauty pageant, or an inauspiciously named teddy bear, the coming eruption of pious rage is now as predictable as the dawn. This is already an old and boring story about old, boring, and deadly ideas. And I fear it will be with us for the rest of our lives.


    The contagion of moral cowardice followed its usual course, wherein liberal journalists and pundits began to reconsider our most basic freedoms in light of the sadomasochistic fury known as “religious sensitivity” among Muslims. Contributors to The New York Times and NPR spoke of the need to find a balance between free speech and freedom of religion—as though the latter could possibly be infringed by a YouTube video. As predictable as Muslim bullying has become, the moral confusion of secular liberals appears to be part of the same clockwork.

    Consider what is actually happening: Some percentage of the world’s Muslims—Five percent? Fifteen? Fifty? It’s not yet clear—is demanding that all non-Muslims conform to the strictures of Islamic law. And where they do not immediately resort to violence in their protests, they threaten it. Carrying a sign that reads “Behead Those Who Insult the Prophet” may still count as an example of peaceful protest, but it is also an assurance that infidel blood would be shed if the imbecile holding the placard only had more power. This grotesque promise is, of course, fulfilled in nearly every Muslim society. To make a film like “Innocence of Muslims” anywhere in the Middle East would be as sure a method of suicide as the laws of physics allow.

    What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.


    Most secular liberals think that all religions are the same, and they consider any suggestion to the contrary a sign of bigotry. Somehow, this article of faith survives daily disconfirmation.


    The point, however, is that I can say all these things about Mormonism, and disparage Joseph Smith to my heart’s content, without fearing that I will be murdered for it. Secular liberals ignore this distinction at every opportunity and to everyone’s peril. Take a moment to reflect upon the existence of the musical The Book of Mormon. Now imagine the security precautions that would be required to stage a similar production about Islam. The project is unimaginable—not only in Beirut, Baghdad, or Jerusalem, but in New York City.

    The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. No apologies necessary. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance. ...

    read the full article at: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/on-the-freedom-to-offend-an-imaginary-god

  12. Campaign for Free Expression - Center For Inquiry

    The Campaign for Free Expression is an initiative of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) to focus attention and efforts on one of the most basic and foundational human rights: the freedom to speak.

    Today, our global community finds itself in the midst of a human rights crisis that even the most pessimistic Enlightenment-era thinker could not have thought possible in the year 2012: many governments and institutions around the world are punishing individuals simply for deviating from, in word or in deed, religion and commonly practiced cultural customs.

    Consider just a few recent examples:

    In Indonesia this year, a man was sentenced to thirty months in prison merely for posting on Facebook that he is an atheist.

    In Pakistan, a Christian mother of five has been sentenced to death for allegedly making derogatory comments about Muhammad.

    In Russia, three feminist musicians were just sentenced to two years in prison for performing a protest song at a Catholic Church.

    In Saudi Arabia, a twenty-three-year-old poet faces the death penalty for posting on Twitter satirical commentary on the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

    In Egypt, Christians have been subjected to threats as well as actual physical violence for trying to attend church services, while an atheist has just been arrested for "insulting religion."

    In Iran, seven leaders of the Bahá'í faith face twenty years in prison simply for belonging to a minority religion—an example of the government's continuing arbitrary crackdowns on Bahá'ís.

    For many in positions of power around the world, this is not enough. While some offer vague platitudes that imply a need to curtail certain forms of sensitive speech, others are far more severe. They seek ironclad global restrictions on what can and cannot be expressed about religion and religious figures, criminalizing on a planetary scale any speech that might offend a religious feeling. The recent eruptions of violence in majority-Muslim countries, ostensibly in response to an anti-Islam Internet video, have prompted leaders in Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, and other countries to seize upon the unrest and call upon the United Nations to enact binding resolutions against the so-called “defamation of religion.”

    Worried about further violence and wary of the appearance of insensitivity, many pro-democracy governments and organizations have begun to soften in their defense of free expression.

    At the Center for Inquiry, we believe it’s time the global community, we as a species, stand up together and declare that this is unacceptable.

    Despite what many would have us believe, the right to freedom of expression is not a luxury valued mainly by Western elites but a widely accepted, foundational principle. Several important international agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, clearly outline that freedom of expression is a universal right possessed by all persons, regardless of geography or nationality.

    No person should face social or legal punishment simply for speaking about his or her beliefs in public. And no topic should be off limits—especially religion, which has such an enormous impact on the lives of billions. Part of the freedom of expression is the freedom to inquire—to ask questions and seek answers beyond what is dictated by a religious text or cultural dogma. This freedom is at the core of CFI’s mission. How can we truly have freedom and equality if certain groups of people aren’t allowed to exercise the same rights as their fellow citizens? And how can we as a civilization grow, learn, and prosper if we allow for the suppression—often violent—of minority viewpoints?

    For more information go to:


  13. Filipino Faces Jail Time for Offending Religious Feelings

    By Thomas Maresca Manila February 07, 2013

    Damaso. That was the one-word message, painted on a placard, that activist Carlos Celdran delivered to a group of bishops in Manila Cathedral in a 2010 protest. To many Filipinos, the meaning was instantly clear: Padre Damaso is perhaps the most famous literary character in the Philippines, a corrupt and abusive Spanish priest who is the villain of Jose Rizal’s 1887 novel, Noli Me Tangere. Celdran had barged into the cathedral to protest the church’s efforts to defeat the Reproductive Health (RH) bill, which provides government funding for contraception and sex education. After more than a decade of bitter feuding, the bill was finally signed into law in December. It was a shocking victory, even for many supporters, and a sign that the church was losing some of its sway over the political affairs of a country that is 80% Catholic.

    Last week, however, the church and its faithful had a message of their own: not so fast. As a result of his Damaso protest, Celdran was convicted by the Metropolitan Trial Court in Manila for violating an obscure provision of the Revised Penal Code, Article 133, which proscribes against “offending religious feelings.” Free on bail, Celdran awaits sentencing for a term of up to 13 months in prison. Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde called the decision “a setback for free speech in the Philippines.” Article 133, dating back to 1930, was carried over from the criminal code of the Spanish colonial period, which ended in 1898. Celdran’s case is the first time the law has been taken to trial and ruled upon. “I didn’t even know this law existed,” said Conde.

    Celdran’s case has quickly turned into a referendum on the role of the church and the limits of free speech in the Philippines. Once virtually nonexistent, the line between church and state is being examined more closely than ever before, thanks in part to reform-minded President Benigno Aquino III and a new generation of social-media-savvy critics. The incident has also become a vehicle for re-examining the country’s penal code, which is littered with several other outdated provisions. A bill seeking to repeal Article 133 has already been introduced by Senator Pia Cayetano. In a note accompanying the bill, filed on Tuesday, the Senator wrote: “Freedom of speech and expression is essential to a sovereign state. In fact, the curtailment thereof has been one of the main reasons for revolts in the country throughout Philippine history.”

    Perhaps that’s why the case has generated so much interest. The strange charge has helped turn Celdran into something of a cause célèbre in the Southeast Asian nation, inspiring Facebook support pages and the Twitter hashtag #FreeCarlosCeldran. The 40-year-old performance artist is already a local celebrity, best known for Walk This Way, a walking tour of Manila that TIME described as “filled with the kind of insight that only a native raconteur can provide.” A statement of support has even come from President Aquino, who was instrumental in the RH law’s passage. The President said, somewhat carefully, that he “may sympathize with Mr. Celdran’s position.”

    continued in next comment...

  14. The church is also treading delicately around Celdran’s case. The Archdiocese of Manila issued a statement clarifying that it had no part in the prosecution of Celdran, even though it was “deeply disturbed” by his act. The powerful Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has also distanced itself from the case, saying it has already forgiven Celdran. It was in fact a Catholic layperson, attorney Ronaldo Reyes, who pursued the case on behalf of the state. Harry Roque, a law professor at the University of Philippines, said Article 133 is a form of lèse-majesté and called it “an archaic provision which no longer has a place when the current constitution and human-rights laws now recognize freedom of expression.” Roque is currently in the midst of a different high-profile legal case, a challenge to the so-called cybercrime law, which contains sweeping and vague libel provisions that have sparked an enormous public outcry. (The libel laws are also a holdover from the Spanish penal code.)

    What’s happening in the Philippines is not a full-fledged revolt but a re-examination of some of the country’s long-held orthodoxies. The biggest question is what role the church should play in national affairs. Hard-line supporters are already gearing up for challenges to the church’s authority. Jo Imbong, legal counsel for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said the RH law’s passage has “increased the resolve of Catholics to stand their ground.” There is also a moderate strain of clergy and Catholic laypeople that supported the RH law and has been outspoken regarding the Celdran case. “The Catholic Church is pervasive through the Philippine psyche in an absolute manner,” said Celdran, who himself identifies as Catholic.

    For now, Celdran continues to lead his Walk This Way tour several times a week. On a recent outing, he did not mention his legal troubles to his audience of about 50, a mix of foreign tourists and Filipinos. But after the tour was over, several people approached him to offer words of support and pose for photos — one even brought a miniature “Damaso” sign for Celdran to hold up. Despite the threat of imminent jail time, Celdran maintains an optimistic take on not only his legal troubles but also on the future of the Philippines. “I’m kind of lucky that I’m in a society that I truly believe in my heart is secular, progressive and logical,” he said. “And I feel like it is very fortunate for me to be in a position that can prove that about our nation.”


  15. New global report on discrimination against the non-religious

    The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) February 5, 2013

    – New report highlights persecution of atheists
    – Blasphemy prosecutions rise with social media

    The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) has produced the first report focusing on how countries around the world discriminate against non-religious people. Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Non-religious has been published to mark Human Rights Day, Monday 10 December.

    Freedom of Thought 2012 covers laws affecting freedom of conscience in 60 countries and lists numerous individual cases where atheists have been prosecuted for their beliefs in 2012. It reports on laws that deny atheists’ right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents.

    The report highlights a sharp increase in arrests for “blasphemy” on social media this year. The previous three years saw just three such cases, but in 2012 more than a dozen people in ten countries have been prosecuted for “blasphemy” on Facebook or Twitter, including:

    In Indonesia, Alexander Aan was jailed for two-and-a-half years for Facebook posts on atheism.

    In Tunisia, two young atheists, Jabeur Mejri and Ghazi Beji, were sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for Facebook postings that were judged blasphemous.

    In Turkey, pianist and atheist Fazil Say faces jail for “blasphemous” tweets.

    In Greece, Phillipos Loizos created a Facebook page that poked fun at Greeks' belief in miracles and is now charged with insulting religion.

    In Egypt, 17-year-old Gamal Abdou Massoud was sentenced to three years in jail, and Bishoy Kamel was imprisoned for six years, both for posting “blasphemous” cartoons on Facebook.

    The founder of Egypt’s Facebook Atheists, Alber Saber, faces jail time (he will be sentenced on 12 December).

    "When 21st century technology collides with medieval blasphemy laws, it seems to be atheists who are getting hurt, as more of them go to prison for sharing their personal beliefs via social media,” said Matt Cherry, the report's editor. “Across the world the reactionary impulse to punish new ideas, or in some cases the merest expression of disbelief, recurs again and again. We even have a case in Tunisia of a journalist arrested for daring to criticize a proposed blasphemy law!”

    The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Heiner Bielefeldt, welcomed the research. In a foreword to the report Bielefeldt notes that there is often "little awareness" that international human rights treaties mean freedom of conscience applies equally to "atheists, humanists and freethinkers and their convictions, practices and organizations. I am therefore delighted that for the first time the Humanist community has produced a global report on discrimination against atheists. I hope it will be given careful consideration by everyone concerned with freedom of religion or belief.”

    The report Freedom of Thought 2012 is available to download from:

    http://www.iheu.org/files/IHEU Freedom of Thought 2012.pdf

    The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world umbrella group bringing together more than 100 Humanist, atheist, rationalist, secularist, and freethought organizations from 40 countries.

    For more information contact:

    Bob Churchill, +44 207 636 4797, comms@iheu.org

    Or Matt Cherry, +1 518 632 1040, matt@iheu.org


  16. International Day to Defend Apostates and Blasphemers March 14, 2013

    by Maryam Namazie, Nothing is Sacred

    Countless individuals accused of apostasy and blasphemy face threats, imprisonment, and execution. Blasphemy laws in over 30 countries and apostasy laws in over 20 aim primarily to restrict thought, expression and the rights of Muslims, ex-Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

    On 14 March 2013, we, the undersigned, call for an international day of action to defend apostates and blasphemers worldwide by highlighting ten cases though there are countless more.

    Alex Aan, Indonesia: 30 year old atheist, in prison for blasphemy for saying there is no god on Facebook. Sign Petition Here.

    Abdul Aziz Mohammed Al-Baz (also known as Ben Baz), Kuwait: Blogger and atheist charged with blasphemy. Support him here.

    Turki Al Hamad, Saudi Arabia: Novelist in prison for Tweets critical of Islam and Islamism. Write Letter Here!

    Raif Badawi, Saudi Arabia: Charged with apostasy for setting up a website that “harms the public order and violates Islamic values”. Sign Petition.

    Asia Bibi, Pakistan: 45 year old Christian mother of five, sentenced to death for blasphemy for ‘insulting Mohammad’. Join Save Asia Bibi Facebook Page Here.

    Hamza Kashgari, Saudi Arabia: 23 year old Muslim charged with blasphemy for Tweeting about Mohammad and women’s status. Sign Petition Here and Here.

    Saeed Malekpour, Iran: Sentenced to death for ‘insulting and desecrating Islam’. Join Free Saeed Malekpour Facebook Page Here.

    Shahin Najafi, Iran: A death fatwa for apostasy has been issued by Iranian clerics against Shahin Najafi living in Germany for a song critical of an imam. Support Shahin Here.
    Ahmad Rajib, Bangladesh: The well-known 35 year old atheist blogger had his head hacked apart with a machete one day after attending anti-Islamist protests in Bangladesh.

    Alber Saber, Egypt: The atheist blogger has been sentenced to three years in prison for blasphemy. Support Him Here.
    We urge the public to mark this day by taking action in support of the many women, men and even children languishing in prison or on death row.

    We must never forget them.

    Take action on 14 March to highlight this intolerable situation, including by Tweeting, signing a petition, writing a letter of protest, drawing a picture, taking a photo, making a video – anything at all to defend free expression and thought and the many whose lives are at stake.

    Signed ....

    to read the links embedded in this article go to:


  17. Turkish-Armenian blogger sentenced to Turkish prison for blasphemy

    By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN May 23, 2013

    Istanbul (CNN) -- A Turkish-Armenian blogger vowed to appeal a day after an Istanbul court sentenced him to more than a year in prison for blasphemy.

    In a phone interview with CNN, Sevan Nisanyan accused Turkey's Islamic-rooted government of politically persecuting him.

    "When I attacked the Islamist establishment they felt I overstepped my boundaries," said Nisanyan, who is a member of Turkey's tiny Armenian ethnic minority. "Here I am an Armenian doing something no Armenian has done in a Muslim country. This is really the height of boldness, of impudence. This is something you are not supposed to do."

    According to Turkey's semi-official Anatolian Agency, Nisanyan received a one year and 45-day jail sentence for "openly denigrating the religious values held by a certain portion of the population."

    Anatolian reported that Nisanyan's initial nine-month jail sentence was extended because "the crime was committed through the press."

    Turkey is a majority Muslim country.

    Nisanyan said the court cited a passage in his blog published last September that referred to the international uproar triggered by cheaply made Hollywood film called the "Innocence of Muslims." The film, which ridiculed the most revered figure in Islam, the Prophet Mohammed, sparked violent protests in Egypt and Libya. The Turkish prime minister also denounced the movie as "Islamophobic," though protests on Turkish streets were small and peaceful.

    On Wednesday, Nisanyan published an English translation of the passage in question from his September 2012 blog post:

    "It is not 'hate crime' to poke fun at some Arab leader who, many hundred years ago, claimed to have established contact with Deity and made political, economic and sexual profit as a result. It is almost a kindergarten-level case of what we call freedom of expression," Nisanyan wrote.

    Since the blog was published last year, Nisanyan said, prosecutors have taken him to court simultaneously for this passage in three separate courts across Turkey.

    continued in next comment...

  18. Nisanyan said he represented himself at the criminal court in Istanbul, without the help of an attorney. He acknowledged that he took a confrontational approach in his statement to the court, arguing that no one should be prosecuted for discussing the historical background of a religious figure.

    "In consequence of his claim to have established contact with Deity, this Muhammed, who was a lowly merchant, acquired political dominion over all Arabian and gained the financial means to raise 30-thousand-strong armies," Nisanyan wrote, citing his statement to the court.

    "It is an incontrovertible historical fact that this person made political, economic and sexual profit from his alleged contact with Deity."

    In his interview with CNN, Nisanyan recognized that he was deliberately throwing fuel on the fire regarding his conviction.

    "I'm hoping to contribute to the ongoing debate in this country on freedom of expression and freedom of religion," Nisanyan said. "I think I'm performing a useful public service."

    This is not the first time people have been convicted of insulting Islam in Turkey.

    Last month Fazil Say, Turkey's most famous classical pianist, received a 10-month suspended jail sentence for insulting Islamic values in a series of statements disseminated on Twitter.

    International press freedom organizations have slammed Turkey in previous years for having more journalists in prison than any other country.

    On April 30, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International denounced a new package of legislation sponsored by the Turkish government.

    "Amnesty International believes the reform package will allow abusive prosecutions to continue, forcing still more political activists, journalists and human rights defenders to face jail sentences for carrying out their work," Amnesty wrote.

    According to Anatolian, the judge in Istanbul ruled "not to postpone the punishment" for Nisanyan because he has a record of prior convictions.

    Nisanyan served 11 months in prison a decade ago for committing building violations in the touristic Turkish village of Sirince, where he owned and operated a hotel.

    Prior to becoming an outspoken political blogger and newspaper columnist, Nisanyan was a prominent travel writer and hotelier who promoted the boutique hotel and bed-and-breakfast industry in Turkey.

    He said he is currently appealing a dozen convictions with sentences that add up to 20 years in jail.

    During his previous prison term, Nisanyan wrote and published a dictionary of Turkish etymology, a study of the history of words.


  19. 15-Year-Old Syrian Boy Executed for Committing Blasphemy

    By Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist June 10, 2013

    15-year-old Mohammad Qataa did nothing wrong.

    He was selling coffee in the city of Aleppo recently when he got into an argument and supposedly said the following:

    “Even if the Prophet Mohammad comes down [from heaven], I will not become a believer.” http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-10/islamists-execute-syrian-teenager-for-blasphemy-reports/4743894

    That was enough for an “Al Qaeda-linked Islamist group” to find him and kill him yesterday:

    “People gathered around him and a member of the fighting brigade said: ‘Generous citizens of Aleppo, disbelieving in God is polytheism and cursing the prophet is a polytheism. Whoever curses even once will be punished like this’,” the [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] said.

    “He then fired two bullets from an automatic rifle in view of the crowd and in front of the boy’s mother and father, and got into a car and left.”

    If that wasn’t disturbing enough, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is distributing a very-graphic-and-NSFW image of Qataa http://www.demainonline.com/2013/06/10/un-jeune-syrien-execute-par-des-rebelles-pour-blaspheme/
    to the press in order to let people know how serious this violence is and to turn people against the Syrian regime.

    (Also, “Polytheism”?)

    There’s one more twist to this story that could somehow make it even worse. According to Al Jazeera,http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/06/201369175918244221.html the argument that Qataa had may have been with a customer who just wanted a free cup of coffee. Qataa said “Even if Muhammad comes down, I will not give it as debt” — or (paraphrased) I wouldn’t give you free coffee even if Muhammad came back down. (“Religion” and “debt” share a similar root in Arabic, adding to the confusion.) http://www.reddit.com/r/exmuslim/comments/1g0u2w/syrian_teenager_mohammad_qataa_executed_by/cafsah4

    In other words, Qataa may have been killed over an innocuous statement that was only misinterpreted as blasphemy.

    This is religion at its worst, unable to handle even the idea that someone might not believe in God. Yes, there’s a political angle to this and the terrorist group wants to stoke fear in the masses, but their delusions are only pushed to the brink because of their dogmatic faith.


  20. Winnipeg fringe festival actor called blasphemer for play

    CBC News July 21, 2014

    A fringe festival actor has come under attack for her controversial take on the life of the Virgin Mary, with her posters and car being vandalized in Winnipeg.

    Theresa Thomson is performing in a show called Lies of a Promiscuous Woman, which poses the question: what if Mary lied about the resurrection and immaculate conception?

    Before the first performance, Thomson discovered that posters for the show have been vandalized with words like "slut" and "blasphemer."

    Vandalized car
    Someone wrote on Theresa Thomson's car with permanent marker. (Courtesy Theresa Thomson)

    She's also had similar words yelled at her on the street, and on Sunday, the word "slut" was written in permanent marker on her car.

    There's also been requests to have the show shut down.

    Thomson, who plans to file a police report on Monday, now has a fellow actor walk her to and from her performances in order to feel safe.

    She expected the play, which is getting positive rating by reviewers, to be controversial but didn't expect to be targeted like that.

    She refuses, however, to let the negativity stop her or affect the play.

    “The audiences that are coming up to me and the audiences that are standing up at the end are being moved. And we're starting a conversation,” Thomson said.

    Thomson said she's never been in a show that's swung so positively and negatively when it comes to reaction.


  21. Backdoor Blasphemy PA County Intends To Pursue Jesus Statue Desecration Case

    by Simon Brown, American's United For Separation of Church and State September 23, 2014

    It seems a Pennsylvania county has its heart set on enforcing a backdoor blasphemy law thanks to a persistent and misguided district attorney.

    Earlier this month, a story made the rounds on social media concerning a 14-year-old boy in Everett, Pa., who posted on Facebook a photo of himself simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus.

    Thanks to Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins’ crusade against anything that might be offensive to Christians, the teen, whose name has not been publicly released, stands accused of “desecration of a venerated object.” News reports said he is facing criminal charges and the possibility of two years in a juvenile facility.

    The teenager has not been charged with trespassing, vandalism or any other offense rooted in secular law. News reports also noted that Love in the Name of Christ, the organization on whose property the statue sits, is not interested in pressing charges.

    So what gives? Higgins is able to bring neo-blasphemy charges against the teen because of a 1972 statute that makes “desecration, theft or sale of a venerated object” a second-degree misdemeanor. Pennsylvania law defines “desecration” as “defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating” an object “in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities” of anyone who learns about it.

    This law probably isn’t enforced too often, but Higgins said in an interview last week that he feels compelled to protect the moral sensibilities of his community.

    “This troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community,” he said, adding that if the prosecution “tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd,’ I make no apologies.”

    Given Higgins’ stated religious motivation for prosecuting the teen and the fact that the “desecration” law is a blatant violation of church-state separation, Americans United wrote a letter to Higgins yesterday telling him not to press the matter because the “desecration” statue violates the First Amendment, allows government officials to target any message they don’t like and impermissibly uses a law to achieve religious goals.

    continued below

  22. Higgins fired back almost immediately. In an email sent to Americans United attorneys, the D.A. refused to back down, saying he “respectfully disagree[s]” with AU’s argument and he intends to “leave the matter for the Courts to decide.”

    He also claimed “Internet stories have grossly misstated many of the facts in this case” and denied that the teen faces two years in a juvenile facility.

    “He is not facing any jail time whatsoever,” Higgins said. “[T]his juvenile, whom we have steadfastly refused to identify, will, in all likelihood, be placed into a diversionary program, perform a few hours of community service, answer to a probation officer for a few months, and end up with no criminal record whatsoever.”

    Higgins may recommend a sentence like that, but the judge could decide to impose the harshest possible sentence the law will allow – even if Higgins is against it. So in reality, it would seem this boy is, indeed, facing at least the possibility of time in a facility.

    Higgins concluded his email by saying that the focus in this saga has been all wrong because no one is thinking of the “religious freedom” rights of the Christian group whose statue was “desecrated.”

    “[W]hile there seems to be an intense focus on the religious rights of the juvenile, there seems to be very little attention paid to the religious rights of the offended group -- Love, Inc., -- the owners of the statue located on their private property,” he wrote. “Love, Inc. has a right to practice their faith, unmolested, and, as District Attorney, I have an obligation to see to it that their rights are respected.”

    The problem here is that the teen’s action – although certainly crass and immature – did nothing more than send a message that some find offensive. No physical damage was done to the statue and he did not in any way actually stop Love in the Name of Christ from practicing its faith.

    Ultimately, Americans United has no reason to believe that any of the media accounts of this story are inaccurate, but let’s pretend Higgins is right for the sake of argument. He still misses the point. Nowhere in his email did he address the fact that Pennsylvania’s neo-blasphemy law is unconstitutional. The law makes this boy a victim of viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment.

    Higgins’ words and actions make it clear that he intends to keep up his dangerous game for as long as possible. But he has already tipped his hand, showing that he cares mainly about protecting the rights of local Christians and silencing those who don’t conform to the community “morals” – standards that Higgins gets to set given his position.

    Higgins told us the boy’s court date is Oct. 3. He can rest assured we’ll be paying close attention to the proceedings.


  23. Iran executes man for heresy

    Mohsen Amir-Aslani convicted of insulting prophet Jonah and making ‘innovations in religion’ through interpretations of Qur’an

    by Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian September 29, 2014

    A 37-year-old man has been executed in Iran after being found guilty of heresy and insulting prophet Jonah, according to human rights activists.

    Mohsen Amir-Aslani was arrested nine years ago for his activities which the authorities deemed were heretical. He was engaged in psychotherapy but also led sessions reading and reciting the Qur’an and providing his own interpretations of the Islamic holy book, his family said.

    Amir-Aslani was hanged last week for making “innovations in the religion” and “spreading corruption on earth”, but human rights activists said he was a prisoner of conscience who was put to death because of his religious beliefs. He had interpreted Jonah’s story in the Qur’an as a symbolic tale.

    Iran’s judiciary, which was responsible for the handling of his case, has since denied that Amir-Aslani’s execution was linked to his religious beliefs.

    Instead, the authorities allege that he had illicit sexual relationships with a number of people who participated in his sessions and the type of activities he was involved in did not follow an official interpretation of the religion. It was not clear if Amir-Aslani had official permission to conduct his sessions.

    “Mohsen held sessions in his own house dedicated to reciting the Qur’an and interpreting it. He had his own understandings [of the religion] and had published his views in the form of a booklet and made it available to his fans,” an unnamed source told the New York-based group, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI).

    According to the source, Iran’s ministry of intelligence was behind Amir-Aslani’s arrest. “He was initially held for making innovations in Islam and providing his own interpretations of the Qur’an but later he was accused of insulting prophet Jonah and also faced accusations of having sex outside marriage,” the source said. “They alleged that he had sexual relationships with a group of the people who participated in his classes.”

    continued below

  24. Irans judiciary has presented little evidence in public relating to the allegations of illicit sexual activities. The judge who presided over his case, Abolghassem Salavati, is known in Iran for leading numerous unfair trials, including many that resulted in execution.

    Amir-Aslani’s wife, Leila, told the opposition website Roozonline that she was hoping a high court would strike down his conviction but his sentence was eventually upheld. She told Roozonline that his conviction stemmed from his religious views and no evidence was presented to back up the charges related to his alleged sexual activities.

    Iranian authorities are sensitive towards those practising Islam in ways not conforming to the official line. In recent years, several members of Iran’s Gonabadi dervishes religious minority have been arrested and are currently serving lengthy prison terms.

    Amnesty said last week that a group of nine Gonabadi dervishes were on hunger strike in protest at their treatment in prison. They were Mostafa Abdi, Reza Entesari, Hamidreza Moradi and Kasra Nouri, as well as the five lawyers representing them who have also been jailed: Amir Eslami, Farshid Yadollahi, Mostafa Daneshjoo, Afshin Karampour and Omid Behrouzi.

    “The men were mostly detained in September 2011, during a wave of arrests of Gonabadi dervishes. They were all held in prolonged solitary confinement, without access to their lawyers and families, and were sentenced, after two years and following grossly unfair trials, to jail on various trumped-up charges,” Amnesty said. “The men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for practising their faith and defending the human rights of dervishes through their legitimate activities as journalists and lawyers.”

    In Iran, Gonabadi dervishes face persecution, discrimination, harassment, arbitrary arrests and attacks on their prayer houses, Amnesty said.


  25. Canada Anti Blasphemy Law Has to Go

    by Eric Adriaans, National Executive Directors, Center For Inquiry Canada

    Fellow Freethinkers

    Under Criminal Code Section 296, you or I might be sentenced to two years in prison if we were found guilty of blasphemous libel. In Saudi Arabia, Raif Badawi's sentence has been far more cruel and grievous.

    Today, CFI Canada received information from Ensaf Haidar that her husband, Raif Badawi, is expected to begin receiving a punishment of 1000 lashes on January 9, 2015 in his home country of Saudi Arabia. Ms. Haidar informed CFIC that "the lashing order says Raif should be lashed severely".

    As we're certain CFIC members are aware, Raif Badawi was imprisoned for insulting Islam by the Saudi government. We have placed Ms. Haidar in contact with Ambassador Bennett of Canada's Office of Religious Freedom and thank him deeply for any assistance that he may offer.

    CFI Canada condemns the Saudi government's barbaric and horrifying intention to torture Raif Badawi and we will be submitting letters to the Government of Canada to urge our government to action.

    We also note that this terrible and cruel punishment is scheduled to occur within days of the terrible attack and murders perpetrated at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France.

    These are faith-based attacks on freedom of speech.

    CFIC has been in contact with Ambassador Andrew Bennett regarding Mr. Badawi and also regarding the hypocrisy of protecting religious minorities while retaining an antiquated blasphemy law.

    CFIC is also urging Justice Minister MacKay to take a stand against faith-based brutality, violence and oppression by communicating with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to call for the immediate release of Raif Badawi. We are urging Mr. MacKay to lead the important symbolic step of removing Section 296 from Canada's Criminal Code.

    Criminal Code Section 296 is an anti-blasphemy still on Canadian books.

    Faith-based terrorists are attacking and killing journalists and cartoonists while governments use cruel blasphemy laws to torture their citizens. It is time the Canadian government actively opposed blasphemy laws and the brutality and violence they precipitate.

    We ask our members and supporters to urge the Canadian government to take action against faith-based oppression and violence. Contact your MP, Minister John Baird (Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada), Minister Peter MacKay (Department of Justice) to voice your concern.

    Whether religious oppressors hide behind thuggish masks or thuggish laws, we must respond to their attempts to intimidate us and silence our free speech.

    We must push for an end to blasphemy laws in Canada and call for the freedom of Raif Badawi, and the others around the world oppressed and tortured by these terrible laws.

    If you wish to stay up-to-date regarding Raif Badawi, we will posting updates: