“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man.
“If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”
Those fiery words come from Henry Drummond in an adaptation of Inherit the Wind, a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. Its title was derived from the proverb “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind”. The play itself warns that when people create problems within their own households, they will gain nothing.
Lawrence and Lee depicted the tension between religion and science and, in a broader sense, the role of the state. The role of the state is supposed to be neutral, to give a fair chance to both religion and science. But, very often, the state fails to do so.
As the story showed, science can be regarded as blasphemy, and so can artistic expression. Cases of paintings and poems being condemned as blasphemy are countless, even including jokes, puns or cartoons.
Blasphemy is a very sensitive charge. For certain kinds of people, it may become the casus belli to shed others’ blood. Unfortunately, there is no limit with regard to interpreting blasphemy. One may find an act to be blasphemous while others are not bothered by it.
Of course blasphemy is unacceptable. The problem is, how far should the state be involved in this matter and what is its role supposed to be?
I think the state should not be involved with regard to religious matters or, even worse, become the executioner of religion. The state should measure only the crimes that are defined under an objective law. Therefore, while a certain religion may allow its followers to kill for the sake of God, it is still unacceptable because killing itself is a violation of law. The problem with the Blasphemy Law is that the boundaries between state and religion could break.
There are reasons why the Blasphemy Law is problematic. First, blasphemy cases are full of theological and dogmatic debate. Where a seasoned scholar is needed to extract the truth from such debates, the court only provides layman judges who have no profound understanding of the subject.
The capacity of a layman judge to address such complexity is a problem. Also, it would be inappropriate for the state to determine which school of thought or dogma or theological view was acceptable. The freedom to believe is guaranteed by the Constitution.
Second, the Blasphemy Law will only spread discourse among members of the public. It will not become the trial of the defendant, but it will be a trial of scripture. Such an atmosphere will create prejudice that the defendant is guilty. There is no equality before the law in this case as the Blasphemy Law will set the climate for leading public sentiment toward the point where the defendant shall gain no favor.
Third, there is the legal maxim nemo iudex in causa sua, which states no one can be a fair judge in his or her own case. Every judge may be a follower of a certain religion, and their objectivity is in question when they have to try a case of blasphemy regarding their own religion. There is no objectivity in this, and there is no fairness without objectivity. Thus, the defendant in a blasphemy case is the real victim of an unjust law. As Thomas Aquinas put it, lex iniqua lex non est — an unjust law is no law at all.
The law has not appeared out of thin air. As Lawrence M. Friedman stated in The Legal System: A Social Science Perspective, it involves the interaction and reaction of sanctions, social influence and internal values that result in the attempt to create the law, even to bend or corrupt the law. Hence, the Blasphemy Law too is a product of our society and, therefore, a sign of the existence of a problematic and wounded society.
The problems lie not only within the Blasphemy Law itself, but are rooted deeply within our society, a society that is not able to open a dialogue about differences and thinks about religion only in black or white dimensions. On the contrary, religious differences involve more than just a right or wrong perspective.
To abolish the Blasphemy Law is the first step in healing our nation. Thus, the President and all members of the House of Representatives have to revoke this law. The new Criminal Code must not contain the Blasphemy Law.
The state must not be afraid of the claim that public tension will arise. It is only a paranoid claim from the mob that benefits from using the state’s hand to whack its adversaries. The state must not blame the victim, but instead blame the criminals who hide under a veil of godliness.
Abolishing the Blasphemy Law is not only about changing the law, but also about educating people to respond to religious differences in a non-violent way. Religion is supposed to take a dialectic process where clashing ideas are presented in a more civilized manner. Religion must not hide behind the state to attack whoever challenges the status quo.
The Blasphemy Law is not only hurting our society from within, but also provoking differences toward a bloody war, and giving justification to bigotry. In the end, we will only inherit the wind from our internal conflict.