Blasphemy: God Damn Illegal in Michigan

GL

Gentle readers beware!

 

blas•phe•my  [noun]  Profane talk of something supposed to be sacred; impious irreverence. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Illegal in Michigan? You bet! Well, bloody hell — who knew?

Take the Lord’s name in vain in Michigan, among other states, and you’re not only busted by the Third Commandment, but you’re on the wrong side of the law.

Children of God be warned!

Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma and South Carolina all have blasphemy laws on the books. Although rarely enforced, these blatant violations of the First Amendment persist to this day — yet to be challenged in the courts.

God

Michigan’s latest version, heralding from 1931, neglects to define blasphemy, nor does it suggest specific penalties for the misdemeanor offense.

Mich blasphemy law

Two questions arise — What god(s) are we even talking about here, and which level of misdemeanor punishment applies?

Let’s address the second concern first. Presumably if The Lord God, He who commanded light to shine out of darkness, and noted luminary of self-admitted acts of jealous rage, were to be offended in some petty way — if a mortal were to, say, make a graven image of him (see above), or dissed the supreme being in some other inscrutable manner, they may be subject to hell fire and/or criminal punishment under Michigan Compiled Law. Violations of the misdemeanor statute fall into two categories: up to 93 days in jail and $500, or up to one year in jail and up to $1000 in fines. A merciful god would opt for the former.

The answer to the second question remains a bit more dodgy. Are we talking about an undefined generic wrathful deity, or perhaps something more specific like Yahweh, Allah, Elohim, Shiva, Zeus, Thor or Vigoth the Worm God?

There actually have been a couple of modern-day legal scuffles over these archaic statutes.

Pennsylvania’s now repealed 1977 blasphemy law folded under judicial scrutiny. In 2007, filmmaker George Kalman applied to the Pennsylvania Department of State to incorporate under the name I Choose Hell Productions LLC. His application was denied because his business name “may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name.”

Kalman filed suit in 2009, citing constitutional protections. District Court Judge Michael Bayslon agreed, ruling the blasphemy law violated the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.

Hell, MIThank goodness Michigan’s statute isn’t actively imposed. Just imagine the fate of the 266 lost souls living in Hell, Michigan — they’d need to build a bigger jailhouse.

While Michigan may not enforce its blasphemy statute, in 1998 officials invoked a 100-year old similar law in what became known as the “Cussing Canoeist” case. Timothy Boomer was convicted for letting loose a string of profanities, including a couple of choice f-bombs, after tipping his canoe on the Rifle River. The 1897 statute prohibited the use of vulgar language and swearing in the presence of Boomerwomen and children — delicate creatures that they are. Boomer was fined $75 and sentenced to two days of community service.

The cussing law went down on a constitutional challenge though. Michigan’s Court of Appeals overturned Boomer’s conviction. Judge William Murphy wrote:

“Allowing a prosecution where one utters ‘insulting’ language could possibly subject a vast percentage of the populace to a misdemeanor conviction. We find it unquestionable that [the law], as drafted, reaches constitutionally protected speech, and it operates to inhibit the exercise of First Amendment rights.”

Okay, we’ve had some fun with this, but there truly is need for a serious conversation on the topic.  Recent events demand that the concept of blasphemy receive a 21st century makeover.

Mustafa Akyol, author of “Islam Without Extremes, A Muslim Case for Liberty”, penned an op-ed in the New York Times last week calling for an overhaul of the definition of blasphemy. Akyol calls on Muslim statesmen, clerics and intellectuals to “address and reinterpret Islam’s traditional take on ‘blasphemy.'” He reminds readers that the Quran does not advocate violence for the offense, saying:

Wise Muslim religious leaders from the entire world would do Islam a great favor if they preached and reiterated such a nonviolent and nonoppressive stance in the face of insults against Islam. That sort of instruction could also help their more intolerant coreligionists understand that rage is a sign of nothing but immaturity. The power of any faith comes not from its coercion of critics and dissenters. It comes from the moral integrity and the intellectual strength of its believers.

Or, as put by @TheTweetOfGod:

Tweet of God 2

Amen.

DSCN0444Amy Kerr Hardin

Bonus: For a list of silly laws still on the books click here.

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5 Responses to Blasphemy: God Damn Illegal in Michigan

  1. Randa Morris says:

    Great since I believe the third commandment specifically speaks to using the name of God for ‘vain purposes’ like getting elected or duping old people out of their social security checks, I think this law might help us get at least 90 percent of Michigan republicans arrested and jailed. Where do we start?

  2. David Zaiss says:

    Legal schmegal:
    In 1965 a hundred year old municipal statute outlawing swearing in public was used to try a history professor in Chico California. He was speaking in the city park about the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese women and children, calling U.S. troop “bastards” for killing unarmed civilians. Three students, including me, and a professor of geography were arrested and charged with contempt of court for marching in front of the courthouse calling the trial a witch hunt.

  3. Gregory Lowrey says:

    Amen indeed!
    Why would anyone worship a god so weak that it could be hindered, insulted or injured by the opinion of anyone?
    We humans like to inflate our value.
    Worship a god who’s only object is vanity?
    I don’t think that most coventional thinking about god represents a very grounded way to look at the concept. (I mean, not that anyone thinks they can really comprehend um…everything………. and the purposes behind it…!)
    The laws of nature demand unflinching respect and are unaffected by any thing man can do. Do we think humans can reverse the big bang?
    Most”god people” consider theirs to be tougher than, indeed often the creator of or at least the controller of…and at very least – equal to nature itself – yet these mighty wonders almost always are weak and curiosly dependent on lowly man to reassure, support and ultimately save their high and holy bacon from usurption by…evil!
    Religions generally pick such wimpy, whiny gods who demand their worshipers act like hypocritical idiots defending their vanity and tenuous control of all creation – instead of behaving as intelligent creatures as claimed.
    Anyway, good article.
    I agree, a conversation would be something.
    Sadly, history shows that for many, perhaps most, ignorance is indeed bliss.
    Thinking seems to make some people suffer and become unstable.
    (Like politicians and…)
    Humans!

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