Religious offense

Religious offense means any action which offends religious sensibilities and arouses serious negative emotions in people with strong belief and which is usually associated with an orthodox response to, or correction of, sin.


At the turn of the 20th century the French sociologist Émile Durkheim considered the dichotomy between the sacred and the profane to be the central characteristic of religion. There is also a dichotomy between religious communities and advocates of multiculturalism[1]

The vocabulary used in such debates may sometimes be either confused or confusing, and the misuse of religiously technical terms as understood in secular societies can, in itself cause religious offence.[2]


Things that are sacred are articles of faith that are beyond question true sources of rapture for believers and followers.[3] Contradiction or misuse is likely to cause religious offense.


Things that are worldly such as technology or professional advice are sometimes separated from things that are holy or sacred for religious people. Some secular activities may be considered profane and so cause religious offense, even though they may be legally permitted. Crime is the secular homologue to religious sin.


Actions that are not religiously permitted 'inside the faith' are often prohibited within religiously dominated jurisdictions. Profanity is not necessarily proscribed within secular jurisdictions and so legally permitted actions under common law may sometimes be considered religiously offensive to people used to religious legal structures.

Actions which cause offenseEdit

Different religions are sensitive to different things in different measure, particularly such topics, as sexuality, infancy, society, and warfare. It would be impossible to itemize all specific offences defined in all jurisdictions.

However every religion is essentially a set of beliefs conveyed from generation to generation which are, by religious definition, held to be immutable truths by that religion's believers or followers. Anything that tends to weaken or break that chain of authoritative continuity is likely to be offensive and in some jurisdictions severely punishable.

Religious offense can be caused deliberately or by Religious intolerance, especially between specific religious beliefs regarding 'sacred truth'. The secular belief that freedom of speech and the absence of censorship should allow religious practices or beliefs to be criticized is also a cause of conflict.

The use or misuse of religious Paraphernalia, particularly scripture may also cause offense. The publication of a prizewinning novel by a Muslim author resulted in several deaths from rioting as well as murders and attempted murders resulting from a decree issued by a religious leader who was religiously offended by the work.


Traditionally there are three uniquely religious offenses (acts which cause religious offense):

Dogma is the belief that a religion necessarily only ever expresses divine truth. Any challenge to divine authority may be homologous to treason and attract similar serious punishment, typically the death penalty.[4][5][6]

More recentlyEdit

More recently the term is used in modern laws which aim to promote religious tolerance by forbidding 'hate crime' such as the British Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. To allow 'outsiders' to criticize a religion or its practice might appear to serve to weaken or break the chain of intergenerational "truth-telling".

There is a fine line between secular ideas of fair comment and religious offence caused by questioning the veracity of divine revelation.


Blasphemy laws were once almost universal, and are still common in states with strong religious traditions, but such restrictions have been extinguished in most secular jurisdictions that incorporate the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Article 18 of the UDHR allows: "the right to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance"; and Article 19 allows: "the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers". With these two articles, Article 18 of the UDHR allows people to hold and express religious ideas and other beliefs or a lack of religious belief that may be offensive to others or to the majority of citizens and Article 19 explicitly mandates freedom of speech which permits citizens to criticize leaders in a way that some religious people may find seriously offensive.

Some Islamic traditions found this unacceptable and produced Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam Article 24 of which enshrines Sharia law as supreme, and that judicial code includes severe penalties including death for the three offences of Heresy, Blasphemy, and Apostacy, and also includes capital punishment for Moslems (persons who are born into Islam or swear allegiance to it) who refuse to kill when required to do so according to law.[7][better source needed]

Some extreme religious leaders in such secular societies campaign for the offence of blasphemy to be reinstated to enforce respect for their various religious beliefs above any scientific or moral challenge.[8]


Science depends on testability, but, as relatively few advanced scientific facts are testable by non-scientists, scientific material is sometimes disseminated by reference to learned material which is assumed to be reliable (as presented in Wikipedia references) in much the same way as religionists quote 'reliable' holy scripture. This may lead to science being taught to young people as a belief in scientific truth in much the same way as religious truths are taught, For example, when instruction or belief is based on faith in received wisdom from scholars or from textbook evidence which may be difficult or impossible for non-specialists to verify.[9]

Religious pseudoscience includes witchcraft that is beyond traditional midwifery practices and sorcery other than traditional medicine, which insists on supernatural or magical or miraculous intervention which is contrary to scientific evidence. For example, the Medieval Catholic faith in Europe was offended by, and persecuted, sometimes killed people whose practices were related to sexuality, particularly wise women now known as midwives.[10]


Justifiable criticism, particularly satirizing of ideas which in secular cultures may seem absurd beliefs, but which are considered incontrovertible religious facts may be interpreted or misinterpreted as either religious persecution or racism if made by outsiders or one of the three traditional offences mentioned above if published by co-religionists. An example of this is the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy

Religious lawEdit

Religious law refers to ethical and moral codes taught by religious traditions. Examples include Canon law which is Christian church law, customary halakha' the ' Jewish law, Hindu law, and the above mentioned Sharia or Islamic law.[11]

Origin of religion and lawEdit

The origin of religion is uncertain, but it has been suggested that it evolved for the nurture of children.[12] Certainly much religious law is concerned with sexuality and with childcare.

The oldest known comprehensive written law dates from almost four thousand years ago. It survives because the sixth Babylonian king, Hammurabi had it inscribed on a human-sized stone stele erected in cities throughout his kingdom. Fragments of much earlier law codes have also survived via records dating from dawn of writing.

The subjects that the Code of Hammurabi covers are similar to modern legal codes, for it includes religious observance, social conduct and occupational duties which covers military and contractual obligations as well as the control of slavery throughout all of Babylon at that time.

Gender equalityEdit

Gender equality is a relatively recent philosophy, mainly evolved in the Western world during the 20th century. Previously, sexual discrimination was socially commonplace and legally institutionalized, perhaps because distinct gender roles may have had some early human survival[13] or historical economic value[14] or else may have promoted social cohesion.[citation needed]

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights dates only from the mid-20th century (it was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 10 December 1948, and then incorporated into various legal systems some time after that). However UNHDR Articles 1 and 2 had, by the early 21st century, frequently been interpreted by agnostic jurists such that any form of (non-biological) sexual discrimination has become illegal in many secular countries, while in legal jurisdictions strongly influenced by religious considerations sex discrimination may still be legally required and sometimes rigorously enforced.[15]

Scriptural InfallibilityEdit

Because writing is not susceptible to the sort of corruption common in verbal communication scripture can be revered and held sacred, so any criticism or inclusion in secondary works is likely to be offensive to some religionists. A game which included two short scriptural phrases was considered offensive.[16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Farideh Salili & Rumjahn Hoosain (editors) (December 2006). Research in Multicultural Education & International Perspectives. Information Age Publishing.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Nadja Alexander (2001). The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. Deutsch.
  3. ^ Webb, Nadia (2011-07-12). "The Neurobiology of Bliss - The Sacred and the Profane". Scientific American. Retrieved 2012-12-26.
  4. ^ Owens, Erik. Religion and the Death Penalty: A Call for Reckoning. ISBN 978-0802821720.
  5. ^ Hameed, Salman (11 November 2012). "Blasphemy laws are darkening Pakistan's skies".
  6. ^ Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl. "THE DEATH PENALTY, MERCY AND ISLAM: A CALL FOR RETROSPECTION". Scholar of the House. Retrieved 12 November 2012.
  7. ^ "What does the Religion of Peace Teach About Apostasy". Retrieved December 7, 2012.
  8. ^ "Islamic states to reopen quest for global blasphemy law". Chicago Tribune. 19 September 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
  9. ^ Dawkins, Richard (January–February 1997). "Is science a religion?". The Humanist Magazine (UK). Archived from the original on 2002-08-22. Retrieved 2012-12-13.
  10. ^ Uta Ranke-Heinemann (1990). Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: The Catholic Church and Sexuality. ISBN 0 14 016500 2.
  11. ^ Barzilai, Gad (2007). Law and Religion. Ashgate. ISBN 9780754624943.
  12. ^ Blaffer Hrdy, Sarah (2009). Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Belknap Press of Harvard University. ISBN 9780674032996.
  13. ^ Blume, Michael (11 May 2009). "Homo religiosus - The Natural History of Religion". SciLogs. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  14. ^ Chemaly, Soraya. "Complementarianism: Religion, Women's Work and the Economy". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-12-12.
  15. ^ Neuwirth, Jessica (2004). "Unequal: A Global Perspective on Women Under the Law". Ms. Magazine.
  16. ^ "Sony Playstation game Little Big Planet delayed after anti-Muslim claims". Telegraph newspaper UK. 2008-10-20. Retrieved 2012-12-18.