Sacrilege is painful to religious believers everywhere. But broad and subjective legal proscriptions not only contradict the fundamental right to freedom of expression; they also open the door to persecution of minority faiths, as in Ms. Bibi’s case, or of political dissidents. In Russia, the Pussy Riot band was imprisoned for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” though their target was not religion but Vladimir Putin.
History supplies ample evidence that when religions proclaim themselves beyond criticism or challenge, there is hell to pay. Or, as the Anglican archbishop of New Zealand, Philip Richardson, said on learning to his surprise that his country had a “blasphemy libel” law, “My view is, God’s bigger than needing to be defended by the Crimes Act.”