1a: the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God

1b: the act of claiming the attributes of deity

2: irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable

I heard a story on NPR last week about arrests in Greece based on blasphemy charges. I was a little stunned by the news. Perhaps I have been living in a bubble, but I had no idea there were non-Muslim developed countries with blasphemy laws that still existed.* Last fall in Greece, a man was arrested (though the charges have since been dropped) because he made fun of a beloved monk on Facebook. Another group of people in Greece were charged with blasphemy in November because they were part of a play that depicted Jesus and the apostles as gay men. If this group is convicted, blasphemy carries a sentence of six months to two years.

Many believe these arrests and increased violence are part of a push towards conservatism in Greece after their economy crashed. This kind of sociological change is, sadly, common in fiscal crises (Protecting Fundamental Rights During the Economic Crisis by the European Agency Union for Fundamental Rights 2010, p.13).

“The Athens public prosecutor’s office opened an investigation…into whether the performance of Terrence McNally’s play Corpus Christi violated Greece’s 1951 blasphemy law. The director, producers, and actors associated with the play risk charges of “insulting religions,” “malicious blasphemy,” and/or complicity in these acts.” — Human Rights Watch

What the heck?? I guess I’m so surprised by this because I am a spoiled American who takes Freedom of Speech for granted. Although, our first amendment takes a beating sometimes, too,  at least it’s codified. As are blasphemy laws…in many countries. Wikipedia lists 39 countries that still have blasphemy laws — including the U.S. Ack!! While there is no federal law against blasphemy–indeed, speech for or against religion is Constitutionally protected–there are still some states, including Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming and Pennsylvania, that have blasphemy laws. While these state laws may seem archaic, they are still on the books and were the subject of court intervention as late as 2009 in Pennsylvania. Crickey! This blasphemy business is full of surprises.

What do you think? Are you surprised by the arrests in Greece? Are you bewildered to learn about U.S. state laws on blasphemy?

* To my knowledge, most Middle Eastern countries are considered developing versus developed, with the exception of United Arab Emirates. Many Muslim countries have blasphemy laws, especially those that follow Sharia law.

+ Featured image, “The Stoning of the prophet Jeremiah” by Niccolò dell’Abbate (1509 or 1512 – 1571); pen, brown ink, brown wash, and pierre noire on paper; at the Musée du Louvre, Paris.