International Blasphemy Rights Day

Blasphemous libel is still a crime under section 296(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada. The last time someone was found guilty of such a crime was in 1935 (R. vs. Rahard), when an Anglican reverend was prosecuted for displaying a poster denouncing the Roman Catholic Church. The court found that “[w]e must not do things that are outrages to the general feeling of propriety among the persons amongst whom we live.”

Supporters of International Blasphemy Rights Day believe that the freedom to outrage our neighbours (as well as their freedom to outrage us in return) without fear of legal or physical retaliation is one that should be respected. This event is held every September 30, commemorating the publication of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s editorial cartoons in 2005, and the violent backlash that followed. We reject the idea that by criticizing or satirizing religious beliefs, one provokes or causes violence or brings it onto oneself. Similarly, the increasing codification of enforced respect for religions – such as the resurrection of blasphemy laws in Ireland and the “Combating defamation of religion” resolution recently passed by the UN – are not encouraging.

By supporting this event, we support the right to criticize, satirize, and debate the cherished beliefs of the religious and non-religious alike. The [International Blasphemy Rights] Day does not promote hatred or violence, or single out any one group, but promotes free exchange and criticism of ideas. International Blasphemy Rights Day is a reaction to legal encroachment on the right to criticize and satirize, as well as to violent responses to blasphemous speech or actions. Individuals cannot be forced to act in accordance with belief systems or taboos they do not ascribe to themselves.

—Edna Chan & Benjamin Elgie, members of the McGill Freethought Association