WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a resolution calling for the worldwide repeal of blasphemy, heresy and apostasy laws, some of which have resulted in the imprisonment and/or deaths of Christians accused of speaking against Islam.
House Resolution 512, presented by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., was passed by a bipartisan vote of 386 -3 on Monday.
“[B]lasphemy laws have affected Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’i, secularists, and many other groups, 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),” the resolution states.
It notes that at least 70 countries, including in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia Pacific, have blasphemy laws on the books and “such punishment can include fines, imprisonment, and capital punishment including by beheading.”
One of the most high-profile cases was that of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Catholic woman who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010. She was acquitted in 2018 via a positive ruling from the nation’s supreme court and left the country a year later for Canada. As of 2018, the resolution states, approximately 40 Pakistani citizens were on death row or sentenced to life in prison on blasphemy allegations.
In 2017, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the Christian governor of Jakarta, Indonesia, was sentenced to two years in prison after being convicted of blasphemy after referring to Islam in a campaign speech, a move that resulted in mass protests in the nation’s capital.
The resolution also outlines that countries that have blasphemy laws crack down on religion in other ways, including in North Korea, where an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are believed to be suffering in labor camps.
As the United States has been a “beacon of religious freedom and tolerance around the world,” the resolution calls on the president and the secretary of state to make the global repeal of blasphemy, heresy and apostasy laws a priority and to designate countries who enforce them as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
The congressional body itself urged foreign governments to repeal the laws and unconditionally release those imprisoned on blasphemy, heresy or apostasy charges.
“I’m gratified to see our bipartisan Resolution pass in the House,” Raskin remarked in a statement. “Authoritarian regimes use arbitrary blasphemy, heresy, and apostasy laws to imprison, torture, and kill religious minorities. Today the House called for an end to these egregious human rights violations worldwide.”
“I’m gratified by this crucial victory, but our work continues to ensure that no one is imprisoned for his or her religious beliefs across the globe,” he said. “I look forward to continuing this critical work with my House and Senate colleagues and defending freedom of religion, liberty of conscience and tolerance everywhere.”
Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma has introduced the Senate version of the resolution.
The measure, which only serves as a collective statement and holds no legislative weight, had been supported by religious and nonreligious groups alike, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and International Christian Concern (ICC).
“The resolution sends a clear message to countries that persecute Christians,” Matias Perttula, ICC’s director of advocacy, said in a statement. “Countries like Pakistan and India use these laws to systematically oppress, persecute, marginalize, and discriminate against Christians simply because they have chosen to follow Jesus.”
“ICC’s advocacy team worked tirelessly with close partners and allies, informing offices on Capitol Hill on the atrocities sanctioned by these laws. The U.S. needed to make a clear stand on this issue and pass this resolution.”