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The stoning of the blasphemer (Leviticus 24:11-6), as depicted in "Blasphemer" by William Blake (c. 1800)
Preach to the choir
Icon religion.svg
Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith
If you would like to take up blasphemy as an inexpensive but very rewarding hobby, see our beginner's guide to blasphemy.
Fuck god!
—A favored aphorism of Earth People, a messianic new religion of Trinidad[1]:109

Blasphemy is an impious utterance or action concerning God, gods, goddesses, or sacred things. (The very definition of "sacred" implies that jokes against it are entirely off-limits, hence the massive taboo and the special term known as "blasphemy".) Frequently, the definition is extended to include anything which would be regarded as "bad language". The fact that those people who believe in punishing blasphemers also seem to believe that that which is insulted is so weak as to require being defended by mortals is lost on the majority of them.

Blasphemy is considered by some, namely its practitioners, to be nothing more than a thought-crime committed against a non-existent entity (who might not be worthy of respect even if it did exist). In places with strong religion-based law, however, blasphemy laws can be, and are, used against those who don't even subscribe to the beliefs being blasphemed against. One remorseful Pakistani boy made amends for unintentional blasphemy by cutting his own hand off.[2][3][4]

The UN officially recognized the human right to blaspheme in General Comment No. 34 in late 2011.[5]

Blasphemy in modern law[edit]

In the times of the Old Testament, blasphemy was punishable by death, and it used to be a criminal offense in many Western states. Although many of these laws may still exist on the statute books as technicalities, they are not now enforced, or at least not with any real punishment, in most western countries.[6] In the UK, the obsolete blasphemy law was repealed in 2008.[7] Some[8] feel that the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 was put in place to replace it, but, importantly, the new act focuses on offences against people, not offences against God. This may be attributed to the actions of Stephen Green, who attempted to use the blasphemy laws against Jerry Springer: The Opera and brought attention to the fact that the UK had such an arcane law still on its books.

Blasphemy laws around the world.
  No blasphemy laws
  Blasphemy laws repealed
  Local restrictions
  Fines and restrictions
  Prison sentences
  Death sentences

However, blasphemy prosecutions do still occur throughout the world:

  • The Austrian artist Gerhard Haderer created and published a satirical book about a cannabis-smoking, surfing Jesus. The book was published in Austria. He was subsequently tried in absentia for blasphemy in Greece and received a six-month sentence.[9] The sentence was revoked on appeal.
Pakistani Ministry of Religious Affairs warrant for the arrest of an alleged blasphemer. The warrant also offers a reward to any Muslim who kills the blasphemer.
  • The death penalty for blasphemy still exists in a number of Muslim countries, such as Iran,[10] Pakistan,[11] and Saudi Arabia.[12] That's if you can even make it to a courtroom; a man in Pakistan was burned to death by a lynch mob for allegedly burning the Qur'an.[13] In a classic episode of one act of vicious stupidity possibly following another, a girl from the country's Christian minority was similarly threatened by a mob for burning pages of the Qur'an in order to start a cooking fire; the girl may also have Down syndrome.[14] It turns out, however, that she was framedWikipedia by a local imam for the crime;[15] this eventually resulted in the imam's arrest and the blasphemy charges being dropped.[16]
  • Even before the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan, blasphemy was a capital offense. In January 2008, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh was sentenced to death for blasphemy after a five-minute trial. This followed reports that he had downloaded from the internet un-Islamic material on women's rights.[17]
  • Indonesia is a little more liberal: you only get a four-year jail sentence there.[18]
  • Ireland, not wanting to be seen as being backward, criminalised blasphemy in 2009.[20] A referendum is expected over whether to keep the law.[21]
  • In Russia, three members of the punk band Pussy Riot were arrested and charged with "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred or hostility" when their performance of a profanity-laced anti-Putin song inside Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow angered both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Putin government. The band was subsequently sentenced to two years in a prison colony for this "crime".[22] Eventually, band member Yekaterina Samutsevich was released on appeal after serving six months; the other two members remain behind bars.[23]
  • In Mumbai, India, skeptic Sanal Edamaruku faced blasphemy charges after he debunked a "weeping crucifix" phenomenon at the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni.[24] He is temporarily living in Finland while his lawyers file appeals concerning various aspects of the case.[25]
  • In Greece, Greek blogger Filippos Loizos received a 10-month jail sentence suspended for three years for running a satirical Facebook page called "Elder Pastitsios". The page name was a pun using a known Greek pasta dish "pastitsio" — a reference to Pastafarianism — and a now deceased Greek-Orthodox Athos monk's name "Elder Paisios", considered by some as a "miracle worker" and a "prophet". The authorities arrested Loizos at his house in 2012 on charges of “malicious blasphemy and insulting religion” through Facebook, after Christos Pappas, an MP for the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, tabled a question in Parliament complaining about the Facebook page where the administrator insults, mocks, and tries to humiliate the "sacred figure of Greek Orthodoxy", Elder Paisios.[26]
  • In 2010, the late Filipino performance artist and tour guide Carlos CeldranWikipedia was arrested under Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code for disrupting an ecumenical meeting at the Manila CathedralWikipedia in 2010 by raising a "DAMASO!" placard[note 1] and was quoted as saying "Stop getting involved in politics!" over the Catholic Church's interference in Philippine politics, specifically with the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill.Wikipedia[27] Celdran went on self-exile in Madrid, Spain after his conviction where he died in 2019. The incident galvanized the Reproductive Health Bill's author, Edcel Lagman, to file House Bill No. 5170 (or the "Carlos Celdran Bill") in Congress in an effort to repeal anti-blasphemy laws in the Catholic-majority Philippines.[28]
  • In another widely publicised incident in the Philippines, the drag queen Pura Luka VegaWikipedia elicited controversy in 2023 for their parodic depiction of Jesus Christ dancing to a remix of the Lord's Prayer, which led to knee-jerk reactions from church leaders and local government units who declared Luka persona non grata from their localities.[29] While Luka initially dismissed the outrage and maintained that separation of church and state should be upheld, they were later arrested following a complaint by a Nazarene confraternity who took offence at Luka's performance as the Black Nazarene, an image of Jesus widely venerated in the Philippines.[30] Luka's arrest was condemned by the Human Rights Watch, who opined that their arrest is in violation of free expression rights and that Philippine authorities should repeal or amend the laws in question.[31]
  • In what is perhaps another case of two fails coming together, a Filipino exorcist priest named Winston Cabading – of all people – was arrested for merely echoing what the Vatican themselves concluded in 1951 regarding the supposed Mediatrix of All GraceWikipedia apparition in Lipa, Batangas, following a complaint from Harriet Demetriou, a former Commission on Elections chair and retired judge. Cabading held an online conference discussing the supposed miraculous event in Lipa, sternly cautioning the Catholic laity about "how demons can appear to be holy", which Demetriou insinuated as being an oblique reference to the Mediatrix.[32] The Regional Trial Court concluded in 2023 that Cabading did nothing wrong, as his statements were "not of his own but he was merely echoing what 'the Vatican said' or based on the dogma of the church."[33] This, on top of the above-mentioned Celdran and Vega blasphemy incidents, further increased calls for blasphemy laws in the Philippines to be repealed as anathema to freedom of religion and dissent in the country.[34]

The majority of countries in Latin America and Central America never had any form of blasphemy law. The same is true for a few Western European countries such as Portugal, Belgium, and Luxembourg, as well as the United States and the majority of Eastern and Central Europe. The Netherlands, Great Britain, and Iceland had blasphemy laws on the books, but the laws were successfully repealed. Blasphemers may still get into trouble due to other laws over desecrating venerated objects (USA) or inciting religious hatred (UK).[35]

Defamation of religion[edit]

"Defamation of religion" is often a euphemism for blasphemy bandied about in an attempt to make said blasphemy seem culturally insensitive or otherwise politically incorrect.

Origins and legitimate use[edit]

The term is also used (properly, and not euphemistically) for speech which defames (in the ordinary sense of the word) an entire religion or its followers.

The best known example of that might be the infamous blood libels of medieval Europe. Indeed, "defamation" in regards to religion was originally used to counter antisemitism (see Anti-Defamation League). The talking point of the American right that "all Islam is radical Islam" could also fairly reasonably be lumped in this category, as could the claim that "all Muslims are terrorists."[36]

It differs from the concept of blasphemy in that blasphemy refers to any theological narrative that runs counter to one's own theological narrative. Blasphemy can refer to defamation, but is not necessarily defamation. The defamation of a religion is to misrepresent the beliefs or rituals of a religion in order to discredit the religion (i.e., blood libel). Is there potential for the abuse of the term in order to silence other points of view? Absolutely. However, the defamation of a religion is often a tool to advance the persecution of religious groups, particularly when religion is associated (implicitly or explicitly) with race.


The Organization of the Islamic Conference, acting through its specific members, regularly brings resolutions before the UN Human Rights Council condemning "defamation of religion". The term itself sounds fairly innocuous, and in fact at first blush, even appropriate; if we let those anti-religion types run around and bash religion, the reasoning goes, it will lead to all kinds of things like icky Nazis killing off Jews. So the UN tends (or tended) to support the resolutions. Recently, however, this support has been waning, perhaps because the Human Rights Council has finally taken the bother to notice that a person can still be executed for "defamation of religion" in the member nations of the OIC, including Pakistan. In short: in modern theocracies, "defamation of religion" is essentially the same as blasphemy.

Even in the USA, blasphemy can get a person into trouble. In Tennessee, a man is in jail after posting unspecified notes to church doors.[37] Ironically, Martin Luther (allegedly) did this to much greater (eventual) success (he still got excommunicated over it, though).[note 2]

Some blasphemy in the Bible[edit]

  • The Third of the Ten Commandments
  • Leviticus 24:11-16: "And the Israelitish woman's son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. … And he that blasphemeth the name of the LORD, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death."
  • 1 Kings 21:10: "And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him, saying, Thou didst blaspheme God and the king. And then carry him out, and stone him, that he may die."
  • 1 Kings 21:13: "… Naboth did blaspheme God and the king. Then they carried him forth out of the city, and stoned him with stones, that he died."
  • Matthew 12:31-32: "… And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."
  • The Book of Revelation: a whole lot of blaspheming

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Beginner's guide to blasphemy.

External links[edit]


  1. In reference to the character of Father DámasoWikipedia in the Jose Rizal novel Noli Me Tángere,Wikipedia which satirised the abuses committed by Spanish friars in the 19th century.
  2. Also, what Martin Luther did technically wasn't blasphemy, since he was criticizing the Catholic Church for its decadence, hypocrisy, and failure to live up to its own doctrine rather than saying there was anything inherently wrong with Catholicism itself. (He didn't start attacking Catholicism in earnest until the Pope kicked him out and he started his own denomination in response.)


  1. Pathology and Identity: The Work of Mother Earth in Trinidad by Roland Littlewood (1993) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0511877080.
  2. 15-Year-Old Pakistani Boy Chops Off Own Hand to Prove He Really Loves God
  3. Pakistani boy cuts off own hand after blasphemy mistake: police
  4. Teen Cuts Off Own Hand, Mistakenly Thought He Committed Blasphemy (Video)
  5. General Comment No. 34
  6. Review of European blasphemy laws
  7. UK repeal Blasphemy law. Side note: the law remained on the books in Scotland, but thanks to the nature of devolved powers, was unenforceable anyway; it was finally symbolically repealed in 2021.
  8. Is The Blasphemy Law Going To Be Extended? National Secular Society.
  9. Greece sentence artist to six months for blasphemy
  10. Iranian Christian pastor released from jail Guardian, Saturday 8 September 2012 10.59 EDT
  11. Pakistan death sentence for blasphemy against the prophet
  12. Saudi Arabian death sentence for blasphemy
  13. Pakistan mob burns man to death for 'blasphemy', BBC News
  14. Girl held in Pakistan, accused of burning Quran,
  15. Imam Arrested for Framing Girl for Blasphemy, Dispatches from the Culture Wars
  16. Pakistan Drops Blasphemy Case Against Rimsha, Dispatches from the Culture Wars
  17. Afghanistan blasphemy death sentence
  18. Indonesia — four years in jail for blasphemy
  19. Turkey silences Dawkins
  20. Irish Times: Blasphemy law a return to middle ages — Dawkins
  21. Ireland set to call referendum on blasphemy laws
  22. Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison colony over anti-Putin protest, The Guardian
  23. Pussy Riot member freed after Moscow court appeal, The Guardian online
  24. Indian skeptic charged with "blasphemy" for revealing secret behind "miracle" of weeping cross, Boing Boing
  25. Sanal Edamaruku: an update, New Humanist Blog
  26. Blasphemy laws alive and well in Greece: satirical Facebook page leads to 10 month sentence for 27-year-oldThe Press Project
  27. Tejero, Constatino C. (February 10, 2013). "Censored in the temple of the Lord: Who was Carlos Celdran, really?". Archived from the original on February 13, 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  28. Lim Uy, Sasha (October 23, 2019). "Petition Launched for 'Carlos Celdran Bill'". Esquire. Philippines. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  29. Pura Luka Vega declared persona non grata in 11 localities
  30. "Pura Luka Vega arrested in Manila over 'Ama Namin' drag performance". Philippine Daily Inquirer. October 4, 2023. Retrieved October 4, 2023.
  31. Thoreson, Ryan (October 5, 2023). "Philippine Drag Artist Arrested for 'Offending Religion'". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved October 7, 2023.
  32. Why an exorcist priest was arrested for ‘offending religious feelings’
  33. Navallo, Mike (September 4, 2023). "Court: No offense alleged in 'offending religious feelings' case vs exorcist priest". ABS-CBN News. Retrieved October 7, 2023.
  34. Cabristante, Raffy (May 30, 2023). "Calls to revoke religious feelings offense renewed after case vs. priest". ABS-CBN News. Retrieved October 7, 2023.
  35. See the Wikipedia article on Blasphemy law.
  36. Virginia tries to out-Alabama Alabama
  37. TN Man Charged With Vandalism After Posting His Beliefs on Church Doors