Blasphemy Laws as a Challenge to Religious Freedom

April 20, 2016
9:45 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. EDT
Location: Copley Hall Copley Formal Lounge Map

Blasphemy laws designed to protect religious communities from criticism also constitute an important barrier to religious freedom. Penalties for blasphemy, ranging from public censure and fines to imprisonment and even death, can intimidate people with beliefs that diverge from established versions of orthodoxy.

How do blasphemy laws impact religious freedom in practice? Under what conditions does the suppression of religious (and non-religious) expression encourage violent religious extremism? Has the abolition of blasphemy laws promoted greater religious freedom and peaceful religious pluralism? How can the international community most effectively mobilize against such laws in practice? 

The Religious Freedom Project gathered a distinguished group of scholars, policymakers, and activists to debate these important questions. While the focus was on Muslim-majority states like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, the symposium also explored the historical and contemporary experience of other countries, including India and the United Kingdom. 

This event was co-sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project and the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom.


9:45-10:00 a.m. | Welcome
Thomas Banchoff, Georgetown University
Thomas Farr, Religious Freedom Project

10:00-11:15 a.m. | Blasphemy Today
Matthew Anderson, Georgetown University
Nina Shea, Hudson Institute
Asma Uddin, Center for Islam and Religious Freedom / Becket Fund
Katrina Lantos Swett, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (moderator)

11:45-1:00 p.m. | Keynote Conversation: Blasphemy and Extremism
Ayesha Iftikhar, Engage Pakistan
Farahnaz Ispahani, Author and Human Rights Advocate
Imam Mohamed Magid, All Dulles Area Muslim Society
Jennifer Bryson, Center for Islam and Religious Freedom (moderator)

1:15-2:30 p.m. | Solutions / A Path Forward
Salam Al-Marayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Alberto Fernandez, Middle East Media Research Institute
Arafat Mazhar, Engage Pakistan
Daniel Philpott, University of Notre Dame (moderator)

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