Text: S.Res.647 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)All Information (Except Text)

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Introduced in Senate (09/25/2018)

[Congressional Bills 115th Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
[S. Res. 647 Introduced in Senate (IS)]


  2d Session
S. RES. 647

 Calling for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws.



                           September 25, 2018

   Mr. Lankford (for himself and Mr. Coons) submitted the following 
  resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations



 Calling for the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws.

Whereas Article 18 of the International Declaration of Human Rights states that 
        ``[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and 
        religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, 
        and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or 
        private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, 
        worship and observance'';
Whereas many countries continue to have criminal blasphemy laws and punish 
        people who engage in expression deemed by the government to be 
        blasphemous, heretical, apostate, defamatory of religion, or insulting 
        to religion or to religious symbols, figures, or feelings, and such 
        punishment can include fines, imprisonment, and capital punishment 
        including by beheading;
Whereas blasphemy laws have affected Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Baha'i, 
        secularists, and many other groups, and are inconsistent with 
        international human rights standards because they establish and promote 
        official religious orthodoxy and dogma over individual liberty, and 
        often result in violations of the freedoms of religion, thought, and 
        expression that are protected under international instruments, including 
        Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political 
        Rights (ICCPR);
Whereas the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated in General Comment 34 
        that ``[p]rohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or 
        other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the 
Whereas the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) 
        has found that blasphemy charges are often based on false accusations, 
        are used for sectarian or political purposes, and foster religious 
        intolerance, discrimination, and violence;
Whereas the Pew Research Center has found that 44 countries had blasphemy laws 
        as of 2012;
Whereas these laws were present in 14 Middle East and North African countries, 
        11 countries in the Americas, 9 Asia-Pacific countries, 7 European 
        countries, and 3 Sub-Saharan African countries;
Whereas the Pew Research Center also found that countries with laws against 
        blasphemy, apostasy, or defamation of religion were more likely to have 
        severe governmental restrictions on religion, and to experience social 
        hostilities based on religion, than countries that did not have such 
Whereas an international group of experts convened by the Office of the United 
        Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended in 2012 that 
        ``[s]tates that have blasphemy laws should repeal the[m] as such laws 
        have a stifling impact on the enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief 
        and healthy dialogue and debate about religion'';
Whereas blasphemy laws are inconsistent with United Nations resolutions adopted 
        by consensus since 2011 recognizing that religious intolerance is best 
        fought through positive measures, such as education, outreach, and 
        counter-speech, and that criminalization of speech is warranted only for 
        the prevention of imminent violence;
Whereas, according to the annual religious freedom report published by the 
        Department of State in 2015, attackers in Bangladesh killed five 
        allegedly anti-Islamic or secularist writers and publishers, and injured 
        three others;
Whereas, in response to these killings, the Home Minister of Bangladesh, rather 
        than condemning the murders, called on bloggers and others to refrain 
        from writings that could hurt the religious feelings of others and added 
        that violators of the warning would be subject to prosecution under the 
        restrictive religious freedom laws of Bangladesh;
Whereas a 2016 report by USCIRF on Bangladesh found that religious and civil 
        society groups fear that increasing religious extremism will result in 
        more criminal attacks and threats;
Whereas restrictive religious freedom laws validate and promote social violence 
        targeted at religious minorities and dissenters, whether Christian, 
        Muslim, secularist, or other;
Whereas USCIRF has found that in Pakistan, blasphemy laws have been used to 
        prosecute and persecute Muslims, Christians, secularists, and others;
Whereas, according to a Pew Center report on religion and public life, Pakistan 
        stands out for having one of the highest levels of restrictions on 
        religion when both government restrictions and social hostilities are 
        taken into account;
Whereas USCIRF has found egregious examples of the enforcement of blasphemy laws 
        and vigilante violence connected to blasphemy allegations in Pakistan, 
        where blasphemy charges are common and numerous individuals are in 
        prison, with a high percentage sentenced to death or to life in prison;
Whereas, as of February 2015, USCIRF is aware of 18 individuals on death row for 
        blasphemy in Pakistan and 20 serving life sentences;
Whereas Asia Bibi was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, and the Lahore 
        High Court upheld the conviction in late 2014, and her case is on appeal 
        to the Supreme Court of Pakistan;
Whereas blasphemy laws in Pakistan have fostered a climate of impunity, as those 
        who falsify evidence go unpunished and allegations often result in 
        violent mob attacks or assassinations, with little to no police 
Whereas, in 2017, the Christian Governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, was convicted 
        for blasphemy of Islam and sentenced to two years in jail;
Whereas the application of blasphemy laws is on the rise in Europe;
Whereas blasphemy laws in the United States were invalidated by the adoption of 
        the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects the freedoms of 
        thought, conscience, expression, and religious exercise; and
Whereas the United States has become a beacon of religious freedom and tolerance 
        around the world: Now, therefore, be it
    Resolved, That the Senate--
            (1) recognizes that blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws 
        inappropriately position governments as arbiters of religious 
        truth and empower officials to impose religious dogma on 
        individuals or minorities through the power of the government 
        or through violence sanctioned by the government;
            (2) calls on the President and the Secretary of State to 
        make the repeal of blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws a 
        priority in the bilateral relationships of the United States 
        with all countries that have such laws, through direct 
        interventions in bilateral and multilateral fora;
            (3) encourages the President and the Secretary of State to 
                    (A) any efforts, by the United Nations or by other 
                international or multilateral fora, to create an 
                international anti-blasphemy norm, such as the 
                ``defamation of religions'' resolutions introduced in 
                the United Nations between 1999 and 2010; and
                    (B) any attempts to expand the international norm 
                on incitement to include blasphemy or defamation of 
            (4) supports efforts by the United Nations to combat 
        intolerance, discrimination, or violence against persons based 
        on religion or belief without restricting expression, including 
        United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 (2011) and 
        the Istanbul Process meetings pursuant to such resolution, that 
        are consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution;
            (5) calls on the President and the Secretary of State to 
        designate countries that enforce blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy 
        laws as ``countries of particular concern for religious 
        freedom'' under section 402(b)(1)(A)(ii) of the International 
        Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (22 U.S.C. 6442(b)(1)(A)(ii)) for 
        engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious 
        freedom, as a result of the abuses flowing from the enforcement 
        of such laws and from unpunished vigilante violence often 
        generated by blasphemy allegations;
            (6) urges the governments of countries that enforce 
        blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy laws to amend or repeal such 
        laws, as they provide pretext and impunity for vigilante 
        violence against religious minorities; and
            (7) urges the governments of countries that have 
        prosecuted, imprisoned, and persecuted people on charges of 
        blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy to release such people 
        unconditionally and, once released, to ensure their safety and 
        that of their families.

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