I believe that Christians need to be busy in restoring the dominance of the Christian faith in the public square beginning with the preaching of the gospel that captures not only the hearts of the people but the institutions that permeate our nation…. My point is that most arguments against blasphemy laws in America are bogus. There is no need to get all distraught about their existence. Blasphemy laws regulate every society. It just depends on what a nation considers sacred and profane.
I have made it known publicly that I am not a fan of the term “Christian Nationalism” (see Christian Nationalism” Dump the Term While We Still Can). I believe that the term “nationalism” evokes an association with Hitler’s Nazi Nationalism or Mussolini’s Fascist Nationalism. This expression has not been helpful in the debate over the relationship between the State and the Christian Faith. I think the tumultuous discussion over the use of this term in the past year has proven me correct. I prefer the term Christendom or Christian Nation. I do believe that the United States was once a Christian Nation, but now it is not.
I believe that Christians need to be busy in restoring the dominance of the Christian faith in the public square beginning with the preaching of the gospel that captures not only the hearts of the people but the institutions that permeate our nation. We need to make America Christian again. I believe in the restoration of the law of God as revealed in the Ten Commandments as the standard for justice and equity in our country, and I believe that this includes the first table of the Ten Commandments.
I remember the days when businesses were closed on Sunday, otherwise termed the Christian Sabbath. This was mandated by Blue Laws. They were called blue laws because the original laws in New Haven, Connecticut, were written on blue paper. I remember when there were no Muslim mosques within our national boundaries.
Whether one uses the term Christian Nationalism or Christian Nation, one of the issues that inevitably arises in any discussion of this issue is the legitimacy of blasphemy laws. For some reason, this term creates every type of negative reaction from the fear of creating a pope in America to the phobia of creating some type of tyrannical Prince ruling the Federal Government. People get all bent out of shape. It is considered a threat to freedom of speech. We are told that it goes against the Constitution and therefore is un-American.
However, blasphemy laws are inevitable. Whether a law is written on paper or is simply a social norm makes little difference. And as laws, they are enforceable. Blasphemy is exacting a penalty for verbal or written speech that disparages something considered sacred in a particular group or society. It all depends on what a group or society considers as being sacred. Ultimately, it depends on the dominant religion of that group or society.
Those of us raised in a previous Christian generation remember blasphemy laws quite well. First, in the home there were usually unwritten blasphemy laws. If a vulgar word came out of my mouth in my home, then my mother would threaten to wash my mouth out with soap. I have watched a mother do this, literally! Freedom of speech was not an absolute right in my home.
Blasphemy laws were enforced in our local community. If a group of men and women were together in a social context, and a man used a curse word with God’s name, then the other men present (who were not even professing Christians) would either verbally or non-verbally condemn the bad language because we were in the presence of women. The perpetrator of vulgarity was sent a message that he needed to refrain from speaking such language. He got the point quickly and the matter ended there. Blasphemy was not permitted.
In 1879 a Maryland law (Article 72, Sect. 189) stated that “If any person, by writing or speaking, shall blaspheme or curse God, or shall write or utter any profane words of and concerning our Savior, Jesus Christ, or of and concerning the Trinity, or any of the persons thereof, he shall, on conviction, be fined not more than one hundred dollars, or imprisoned not more than six months, or both fined and imprisoned as aforesaid, at the discretion of the court.” In 1836 Abner Kneeland was jailed for breaking the state’s blasphemy laws in the State of Massachusetts.
Today, blasphemy laws still exist but they have changed because the dominant religion of America has changed. There are some words that cannot be used without paying a penalty for your speech. Using an incorrect pronoun for a transgender person is now considered blasphemy. In Canada in 2021, Robert Hoogland surrendered himself to the court after a warrant was issued for his arrest by the attorney general of British Columbia. His crime was calling his daughter, a biological female, by female pronouns, and refusing to affirm her medical transition to become a trans male.
In 2020, if medical physicians made disparaging remarks about the covid vaccine, then they could be deplatformed from social media or fired from their jobs. They were considered guilty of disinformation. To disagree publicly with a governmental agency simply was not allowed. Statism was the new national religion, and any deviation from the pronouncement of the sacred state was blasphemy.
The old arguments for freedom of speech based on the U.S. Constitution made sense when America was a Christian nation. All free speech has limits and the Christian Faith provided those boundaries. We as a people agreed on what was sacred and what was not. Since we are no longer a Christian nation, these old freedom of speech arguments based on 1950 civic courses (Eisenhower era) are no longer useful. When the sacred becomes profane and the profane becomes sacred the blasphemy laws change. They never disappear.
My point is that most arguments against blasphemy laws in America are bogus. There is no need to get all distraught about their existence. Blasphemy laws regulate every society. It just depends on what a nation considers sacred and profane.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tenn.