Last Thursday, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, was accused of violating India’s blasphemy law during his recent visit to the country. A legal group filed a petition against him asking a court to determine that Dorsey violated several penal laws, including section 295A, which prohibits the “outrage [of the] religious feelings of any class.” It could become a high-profile example of the active enforcement of blasphemy laws, which exist in dozens of countries and are still enforced today.
Though intended to protect “religious feelings,” blasphemy laws like India’s section 295A are used by the government and hostile private parties seeking retaliation to suppress people of minority faiths. In Pakistan, for instance, the country’s highest court overturned the conviction of Asia Bibi, a Christian mother who wallowed in jail for almost ten years on death row because of a dispute that resulted in an accusation of blasphemy when she drank water from a common well used by Muslim women.
Blasphemy laws also undermine speech and religious liberty by saddling convicted individuals with onerous penalties for expressing their beliefs. The law in Pakistan, which carries the death penalty, is the most extreme example. But penalties commonly include years-long imprisonment and fines. A violation of India’s section 295A, for instance, is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment, a fine, or both.
While six states in America still have blasphemy laws on the books, they are unenforced and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment protections would surely trump those laws if they were ever brought against someone in court. Countries like India and Pakistan also have provisions in their constitutions supposedly protecting the freedom of conscience or religious exercise, but those provisions obviously are not fully and effectively enforced.
Multiple news stories reveal that Twitter actively bans or censors users for expressing views with which the organization disagrees. Turnabout is fair play, perhaps. But, hopefully, this will serve as a wakeup call to the company about the true danger of suppressing the expression of beliefs.
No one should have to fear the sword of the government or blasphemy laws being used against them for expressing their beliefs. To ensure that all people can speak and worship according to their conscience, we must fight against blasphemy laws and guarantee protections for the freedom to believe.