American cities and states often retain laws on the books long past their sell-by date, such that any given layman (read: non-lawyer) cannot easily determine which laws really have to be followed and which ones are no longer enforced or even enforceable. Among those which can no longer be enforced are statutes and ordinances which impose content-based restrictions on religious or irreligious speech, such as laws penalizing blasphemy. One of these archaic blasphemy laws has recently gained the attention of the church/state separatists at the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). Via Christian Daily:
On Tuesday, the Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote to officials of Edmond City [sic], Oklahoma to request that an ordinance outlawing blasphemy against Christianity be scrubbed off the books after a concerned citizen raised the issue. The atheist group says the ordinance is unconstitutional because it gives more protection to Christians than other religious groups and infringes on the First Amendment’s right to freedom of speech, Christian News details.
According to the ordinance in question, distributing literature or using language that mocks God, Jesus, or Christianity in Edmond is unlawful. These acts reportedly constitute an attack on peace.
In a letter to Edmond’s attorney, FFRF spoke against the ordinance, which it wants to be taken out of the books. The atheist group said extending the restriction only to language that mocks Christianity is not permissible.
FFRF’s letter (rightly and righteously) points out that Edmond’s blasphemy law runs afoul of the First Amendment in two distinct ways; endorsing one particular religion among many and restricting speech based on the viewpoint of the speaker. The law should undoubtedly be struck from the books, or at least struck down by the courts.
Bearing all of this in mind, it remains difficult for me to think of a more toothless law than the one at hand here. Unlike the publicly-supported religious imagery sprinkled all around the City of Edmond, this public endorsement of the Christian religion is tucked away in an obscure section of our municipal code. Unlike blasphemy laws throughout Dar al-Islam and parts of (nominally secular) Europe, the Edmond blasphemy law is both unenforceable and unenforced. I could drive around town with bumper stickers denying the Holy Spirit, demoting Jesus of Nazareth from demigod to peripatetic rabbi, and questioning the reality of any and all deities, and still have nothing to fear from the local constabulary—so long as my brake lights are working.
Meanwhile in Denmark, an ancient blasphemy law has been given new life:
— Center for Inquiry (@center4inquiry) February 22, 2017
It is possible, at least in theory, that my sedentary bedroom community might start enforcing laws which have lain dormant since the Cold War. To be frank, though, I’m much more concerned about upcoming state legislation designed to promote Christian supremacy, such as SB 450. We need to be sounding the alarm on these bills which will be implemented and enforced, unless we mobilize to stop them.