The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants a blasphemy law in a town in Oklahoma taken off the books.
FFRF was contacted by a concerned local citizen about an ordinance in the city of Edmond that criminalizes blasphemy against Christianity. Ordinance 8.12.090 in the City of Edmond Code of Ordinances states:
It shall be unlawful and an offense for any person to circulate any literature or use any language within the corporate limits of the City of Edmond, that casts profane ridicule on God, Jesus, or Christianity, which in its common acceptance is calculated to cause a breach of the peace or an assault. (1954 Code § 255).
This ordinance, like all blasphemy laws, violates the First Amendment.
"The Supreme Court has long recognized that the First Amendment 'mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion,'" FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel writes to Edmond City Attorney Stephen Murdock. "This law promotes religion, specifically Christianity, over nonreligion and other minority religions. It establishes Christianity as the chosen religion and denigrates the free exercise of all others by placing the religious sensibilities of Christians on a pedestal and punishing those who might attempt to ridicule them."
FFRF adds that while it may be permissible to put a restriction on speech that is calculated to cause a breach of the peace or an assault, it is not permissible to extend this restriction only to speech that ridicules God, Jesus, or Christianity. Though this ordinance was written more than 60 years ago and would be unenforceable because it violates multiple provisions of the Constitution, it still sends a message of the city's endorsement of Christianity.
The U.S. Supreme Court has summed it up: "From the standpoint of freedom of speech and the press, it is enough to point out that the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them which is sufficient to justify prior restraints upon the expression of those views. It is not the business of government in our nation to suppress real or imagined attacks upon a particular religious doctrine, whether they appear in publications, speeches, or motion pictures."
Today, nearly 30 percent of adults in the United States are non-Christian, and that number is rising. Among Millennials (those born after 1981), more than 43 percent are non-Christian, either practicing a minority religion or no religion at all. The city of Edmond has an obligation to make its laws nondiscriminatory and welcoming for all of its residents, not just those in the Christian majority.
"It's startling that in this day and age, a city still has a statute that criminalizes speech against religion," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "It is completely out of tune with modern sensibilities."
FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 27,000 members across the country, including in Oklahoma. Its purpose is to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church.