Illegal To Be Faithful: One-Quarter Of The World Has Blasphemy Laws
Religion & Liberty Online

Illegal To Be Faithful: One-Quarter Of The World Has Blasphemy Laws

Meriam Ibrahim is living under a death sentence. Shackled in a Sudanese prison, with her toddler son and newborn daughter with her, Ibrahim will likely be executed. Her crime: being Christian. A Sudanese high court delivered the sentence when Ibrahim refused to denounce her Christian faith.

This may seem like an aberration, an isolated throwback to more barbaric times, but according to Pew Research, one-quarter of the world’s countries have blasphemy and apostasy laws.

A new analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life finds that as of 2011 nearly half of the countries and territories in the world (47%) have laws or policies that penalize blasphemy, apostasy (abandoning one’s faith) or defamation (disparagement or criticism of particular religions or religion in general). Of the 198 countries studied, 32 (16%) have anti-blasphemy laws, 20 (10%) have laws penalizing apostasy and 87 (44%) have laws against the defamation of religion, including hate speech against members of religious groups.

Even more common than apostasy and blasphemy laws are laws regarding the defamation of a religion. According to Pew, 87 countries in 2011 had laws “forbidding defamation of religion or hate speech against members of religious groups.” These types of laws were most common in Europe and generally viewed as forbidding “hate speech.”

We may tend to think that such things have gone the way of lions in the Coliseum, as audiences watched Christians being done away with as sport. Meriam Ibrahim and thousands of others know this is not true. Being faithful – regardless of one’s faith – should not be a crime.

Read “Laws Penalizing Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation of Religion are Widespread” at Pew Research.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.