Blasphemy! Blasphemy! Blasphemy!

Did I get your attention? Good. Let’s start this week’s Recap with news about blasphemy(!):

The Center for Inquiry kicked off International Blasphemy Rights Day last Monday by interviewing Kacem El Ghazzali, an atheist blogger who recently fled Morocco amid blasphemy charges.

The center also launched its #WithoutReligion campaign to tell Americans that seculars “don’t need God, dogma, or a sacred text to find fulfillment, meaning, and joy.”

Qatar announced that several Arab League countries are working on a new law that would allow them to charge nonresidents living outside the country with blasphemy. I wonder whether they’ll try to levy charges against the 37 percent of Scots who claim no religion.

Jailed Pussy Riot rockers vowed not to perform any more “blasphemous” church gigs when they’re released next year. No word on whether a Russian atheist who faces time in the slammer for posting “nun porn” online will promise to stop.

Piss Christ

An unidentified man (Mortimer) discusses the attack on Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ Photo courtesy achrntatrps via Flickr

A New Yorker who recently wrote an erotic version of the Bible woke up last week to find “BLASPHMY” spray painted across his front step. From Piss Christ to elephant dung Mary, here’s a look at 12 artworks that have been silenced or destroyed for exploring “blasphemous” themes.

Food blasphemy is … apparently a thing. A Chicago restaurant caused a stir when it unveiled its new “Ghost Burger” topped with the blood of Christ (red wine reduction) and a communion wafer. Fans are calling it “sacrilicious.”

Employees at a TGI Friday’s in Texas allegedly put bacon into a Muslim woman’s iced tea. That’s wrong on so many levels. In somewhat related news, Muslim prisoners in Britain are suing the government for serving them “halal” meat pies laced with pork. In the government’s defense, no one really knows what goes into those things.

America lost its mind last week. As if the government shutdown weren’t crazy enough, there was this string of totally ludicrous headlines:

1. “American Family Association Renews Efforts To Censor ‘Obscene’ Sexting Statue In Kansas” (Go on, click it. The statue is pretty funny.)

2. “Arabic foreign language class at Daphne High teaches ‘a culture of hate,’ some parents say.” Some parents don’t know what they’re talking about.

But the prize for best sensational headline goes to:

3. “Bisexual Punk Musician Films Porn On Westboro Baptist Church Lawn” Need I say more? Please don’t make me.

Christian-owned Hobby Lobby crafted controversy last week when an employee said the store wouldn’t stock Hanukkah merchandise. The company’s president, Steve Green, later apologized and said it will carry Jewish-themed items in New York and New Jersey by early November “to test the market.”

Hobby Lobby has been hitting the headlines hard lately for its religious freedom fight against the contraception mandate under Obamacare. During the budget debacle, House Republicans tried to slip in a “conscience clause” to the spending bill, which would allow employers to opt out of providing birth control on moral or religious grounds. Some businesses are now invoking free speech to oppose the requirement.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford said public school football coaches should be able to pray with their players on the field under the state’s “inspirational messages” law.

Richard Dawkins called the teaching of creationism in schools “an educational scandal and outrage” when speaking about science and secular government before congressional staffers in Washington, D.C., last Monday.

Creationists pressured a community theater in Minnesota to cancel a production of “Inherit the Wind,” a play based on the 1925 Scopes monkey trial that explores whether and how evolution should be taught in schools.

A top leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said past leaders had “made mistakes” about Mormons who question the church’s doctrine and history. A different leader reaffirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, saying, “our policies are determined by the truths God has declared to be unchangeable.” Church representatives also reportedly turned away nearly 200 women who sought tickets to a men’s-only session at a global LDS conference in Salt Lake City.

On the foreign policy front, blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng joined three American organizations to advocate for religious freedom in China.

Why do American Christians ignore global Christian persecution? Jonathan Merritt blames media, the recession and culture wars.


Religious tensions between Muslims and Buddhists flared in Myanmar. Buddhist mobs killed at least five Muslims, including a 94-year-old woman, and  burned more than 70 homes, causing terrified Muslims to flee west.

A suicide bomber killed at least 51 Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad before the anniversary of the death of one of their imams. Weekend attacks in Iraq claimed at least 80 lives.

In Saudi Arabia, four men were charged with “dancing on a vehicle in public” and “violating public morals.” They’re set to receive thousands of whips for ghost-riding the whip naked.

The Council of Europe passed a resolution that calls male ritual circumcision a “violation of the physical integrity of children.” Israel’s foreign ministry responded, calling the resolution:

“an intolerable attack both on the respectable and ancient religious tradition that lies at the base of European culture, and on modern medical science and its findings. This resolution casts a moral stain on the Council of Europe, and fosters hate and racist trends in Europe.”

A member of Bangladesh’s Parliament was sentenced to death for crimes against Hindus committed during the country’s fight for independence in 1971.

The New York Times has a fascinating piece on the politics of converting Christians to Hinduism (and animistic Sarnas to both of those faiths) in India.

The veil debate seems to have died down in England, but a new controversy might take its place. Two Muslim boys at a Catholic school in Lancashire were told that their beards breached school rules.

In other school news, the Church of England criticized the British government over the poor state of religious education in the country. A recent government report showed that six in 10 schools are failing to focus effectively on the subject.

Also in England, a Humanist soldier who served in Afghanistan says he was told by organizers of a Remembrance Sunday (think Veterans Day) ceremony that he cannot lay a Humanist wreath.

Muslims set fire to a church in Mombasa, Kenya, blaming security forces for the death of an an Islamic cleric. Kenya’s president called for religious tolerance after Islamist militants killed at least 67 people in a Nairobi mall two weeks ago.

Turkey’s prime minister unveiled liberalizing reforms after a summer of protests, saying that women can wear hijabs in Parliament and as civil servants for the first time.

And finally, Iran’s sole Jewish member of Parliament called his country one of the freest in terms of religious freedom. Tell that to persecuted Baha’is.

If you’re in Washington, D.C., this week, check out the event “Freedom to Flourish: Is Religious Freedom Necessary for Peace, Prosperity, and Democracy?” at Georgetown on Wednesday and Thursday.

Wherever you are, sign up to receive next week’s Religious Freedom Recap by email using the blue button below.



  1. Those who say they believe in freedom of speech both here in America and abroad are hypocrites when they on the other hand spray paint blasphemy on someones front steps or do not accept anothers religious beliefs or the lack thereof. How sad to live in such a soceity. If Pussy Riot wants to defect here after they are released I’ll stand in line to sponsor them, simply because I do, and always will, believe in religious freedom!

  1. […] Blasphemy! * Sexting statue * 'Halal' pork: Religious Freedom Recap: Sept. 30 …Religion News ServiceDid I get your attention? Good. Let's start this week's Recap with news about blasphemy(!): The Center for Inquiry kicked off International Blasphemy Rights Day last Monday by interviewing Kacem El Ghazzali, an atheist blogger who recently fled Morocco … […]

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