Blasphemy has been a crime in many religions and cultures, wherever there is something sacred to protect. Socrates was prosecuted for blasphemy, and Mosaic law prescribed death for cursing the name of God. Jesus was tried for blasphemy, while Christians regarded the action of the Jews in trying him as itself blasphemous.
Secular modern states often retain blasphemy laws, but they are infrequently enforced. In the United States, state blasphemy laws remain on the books, but the Supreme Court's expansive interpretation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes it likely that any blasphemy prosecution would now be regarded as an impermissible establishment of religion. In countries governed under Islamic law, the concept of blasphemy is broad, embracing many kinds of disrespect or denial of religion; the condemnation (1988) of the author Salman Rushdie by Iranian clerics is a recent example of theocratic action.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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