The United States joined 15 countries in expressing concern over international blasphemy laws. In observance of the 24th International Religious Freedom Day on October 27, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken issued a statement reiterating the nation’s call for advancing the freedom of religion or belief around the world.
Blinken maintained that religious freedom is a founding principle of the U.S. and is enshrined in the Constitution. “Americans cherish the right to worship, or not worship, as they see fit.”
The statement said the U.S. government enlisted the help of civil society and governments to promote religious freedom. The U.S. joined in solidarity with members of the International Religious Freedom of Belief Alliance (IRFBA), countries which are committed to opposing violations against religious freedom.
Americans cherish the right to worship, or not worship, as they see fit. —Antony J. Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State
Blasphemy and apostasy laws may seem antiquated, but a study by Monash University in Melbourne found that at least 12 countries, including Afghanistan, Brunei and United Arab Emirates, enforce the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy or related offenses.
Also, a report from the Pew Research Center revealed that four-in-ten countries and territories worldwide impose blasphemy laws. It found that 79 countries criminalize blasphemy, with penalties varying from fines to prison sentences and in some cases, lashings and execution. The majority of countries with blasphemy laws are in the Middle East and North Africa regions—18 out of 20 countries (90%) criminalize blasphemy and 13 of them (65%) outlaw apostasy.
Members of the IRFBA issued a statement calling several actions, including “the end of the death penalty for any activity categorized as blasphemy, apostasy, or speech that might ‘defame’ or ‘insult’ religious sentiment;” and “the repeal or reform of blasphemy laws.” The group also urged “governments to impose moratoriums on executions for blasphemy or related offences, and unconditionally release individuals imprisoned based on their views on matters of religion or belief that may differ from official narratives or the views of majority populations.” The statement was signed by Australia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Greece, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom.
IRFBA pointed out that enforcing the death penalty as punishment for blasphemy influences people to carry out justice in their hands resulting to vigilantism or mob violence. In Pakistan, the Center for Social Justice reported at least 1,949 people have been accused of blasphemy and 84 were killed extra-judicially after allegations of blasphemy and apostasy between 1987 and 2021. The latest victim is former Prime Minister Imran Khan who was shot in the right leg on November 3 in Punjab province. He is the fourth high-profile personality in Pakistan who was attacked by vigilantes who strongly believe that everyone who discredit Islam and its holy figures must die.
IRFBA lauded U.S.’ advocacy against blasphemy laws, saying it strengthens the coalition’s call for religious freedom for all.