Blasphemy Laws and Freedom of Speech

Blasphemy – defamation of the name of God. It is a violation of the Ten Commandments and is one of the longest standing religious rules in the Judeao-Christian tradition. In the United States of America today there are still blasphemy laws in some states, however the United States Supreme Court has ruled that such laws are a violation of the First Ammendment.
Blasphemy laws are nothing new. The Third Commandment, given by the Lord God to Moses atop Mount Sinai and carved in stone by the Lord's own hand, states: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.” Since this time there have been strict rules on the use of God's name and laws set in place to punish those who would blaspheme the name of God.

It should come as no surprise that the United States of America, with its strong and rich Christian tradition, should also have a tradition of blasphemy laws. Yet the First Ammendment to the United States Constitution states that Congress shall make no law infringing free speech. Wouldn't the denial of the right to blaspheme the name of the Lord be a violation of free speech?

Under the United States Constitution, it would seem that blasphemy laws are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court indeed decided this in a case in 1952. However some state Constitutions, such as the Massachusetts Constitution, still include blasphemy laws.

One of the important things to remember in this discussion of blasphemy laws and freedom of speech that the Bill of Rights originally applied to only the federal government. The individual states were not bound by the Bill of Rights. Thus, for example, while the United States government could not declare an official religion, many states in the earliest years of our country could and did establish official religions for their states.

Thus, states could also make blasphemy laws. For many blasphemy is one of the most heinous of sins, and the allowance of it is seen as a barbarism. Despite freedom of speech, it would be suggested, does that truly give man the right to defame the name of God? According to the United States of America over the centuries, the answer is yes.

During the 1800's Supreme Court decisions ultimately came to the conclusion that yes, the Bill of Rights did apply to state governments just as it applies to the federal government. Thus, precedents in the Supreme Court would also apply to the development of laws in the individual states. In the 20th century new cases began to challenge the legality of state blasphemy laws. The matter was finally settled in 1952 in the case Joe Burstyn, Inc. v Wilson.

Although the United States with its freedom of speech has declared blasphemy laws unconstitutional, this is not the case in many other countries around the world. Oftentimes other countries develop laws outlawing blasphemy regardless of religion. That is to say, if one curses God, Allah or Buddha it is all considered to be blasphemy. No laws outlawing blasphemy regardless of religion have developed in the United States of America.

Blasphemy continues to be a great sin, but we must understand that sins such as blasphemy are a realm that is best left to God and not man. God is a lover of freedom, and one of the most important freedoms that we have in these United States of America is freedom of speech. As much as we would like to see blasphemy be outlawed, it creates a slippery slope that is dangerous for Christians.

What happens if the day should come when Christians are no longer a majority in the United States, and prayer to Christ is outlawed? Our rights are protected by the First Amendment and support of the First Amendment is crucial in all respects to protect our freedoms as well as those of our fellow citizens.
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