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For other uses, see Blasphemy (disambiguation).
Sufi teacher Mansur Al-Hallaj was executed in Baghdad for blasphemy in 10th century CE.[1]

Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for (a) God(s), to religious or holy persons or sacred things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.[2][3][4][5]

Some religions consider blasphemy as a religious crime.[6] As of 2012, anti-blasphemy laws existed in 32 countries, while 87 nations had hate speech laws that covered defamation of religion and public expression of hate against a religious group.[7] Anti-blasphemy laws are particularly common in Muslim-majority nations, such as those in the Middle East and North Africa,[7] although they are present in some Asian and European countries but less common.


The word "blasphemy" came via Middle English blasfemen and Old French blasfemer and Late Latin blasphemare from Greek βλασφημέω, from βλάπτω "injure" and φήμη "utterance, talk, speech". From blasphemare also came Old French blasmer, from which English "blame" came. Blasphemy: 'from Gk. blasphemia "a speaking ill, impious speech, slander," from blasphemein "to speak evil of."'[8] "In the sense of speaking evil of God this word is found in Ps. 74:18; Isa. 52:5; Rom. 2:24; Rev. 13:1, 6; 16:9, 11, 21. It denotes also any kind of calumny, or evil-speaking, or abuse (1 Kings 21:10 LXX; Acts 13:45; 18:6, etc.)."[9]

Blasphemy laws[edit]

  Local restrictions
  Fines and restrictions
  Prison sentences
  Death sentences
Main article: Blasphemy law

In some countries with a state religion blasphemy is outlawed under the criminal code. Such laws have led to the persecution, lynchings, murder or arrest of minorities and dissident members, after flimsy accusations.[10][11]

As of 2012, 33 countries had some form of anti-blasphemy laws in their legal code.[7] Of these, 21 were Muslim-majority nations – Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, UAE and Western Sahara. The other twelve nations with anti-blasphemy laws in 2012 were Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands (abolished in 2014), Nigeria, Poland and Singapore.[7] Blasphemy was treated as a capital crime (death penalty) in many Muslim nations.[6]

Other countries have removed the ban of blasphemy. France did so in 1881 to allow freedom of religion and freedom of the press and blasphemy was abolished or repealed in Sweden in 1970, Norway with Acts in 2009 and 2015, the Netherlands in 2014, and Iceland in 2015.

Where blasphemy is banned, it can be either some laws which directly punish religious blasphemy,[12] or some laws that allow those who are offended by blasphemy to punish blasphemers. Those laws may condone penalties or retaliation for blasphemy under the labels of blasphemous libel,[13] expression of opposition, or "vilification," of religion or of some religious practices,[14][15] religious insult,[16] or hate speech.[17]


Christian theology condemns blasphemy. It is spoken of in Mark 3:29, where blaspheming the Holy Spirit is spoken of as unforgivable—the eternal sin. However, there is dispute over what form this blasphemy may take and whether it qualifies as blasphemy in the conventional sense; and over the meaning of "unforgivable". In 2 Kings 18, the Rabshakeh gave the word from the king of Assyria,[clarification needed] dissuading trust in the Lord, asserting that God is no more able to deliver than all the gods of the land.

In Matthew 9:2-3, Jesus told a paralytic "your sins are forgiven" and was accused of blasphemy.

Blasphemy has been condemned as a serious, or even the most serious, sin by the major creeds and Church theologians (apostasy and infidelity [unbelief] were generally considered to be the gravest sins, with heresy a greater sin than blasphemy, cf. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologiae).[18]

  • Thomas Aquinas says that “[if] we compare murder and blasphemy as regards the objects of those sins, it is clear that blasphemy, which is a sin committed directly against God, is more grave than murder, which is a sin against one's neighbor. On the other hand, if we compare them in respect of the harm wrought by them, murder is the graver sin, for murder does more harm to one's neighbor, than blasphemy does to God.”[19]
  • The Book of Concord calls blasphemy “the greatest sin that can be outwardly committed”.[20]
  • The Baptist Confession of Faith says: “Therefore, to swear vainly or rashly by the glorious and awesome name of God…is sinful, and to be regarded with disgust and detestation. …For by rash, false, and vain oaths, the Lord is provoked and because of them this land mourns.”[21]
  • The Heidelberg Catechism answers question 100 about blasphemy by stating that “no sin is greater or provokes God's wrath more than the blaspheming of His Name”.[22]
  • The Westminster Larger Catechism explains that “The sins forbidden in the third commandment are, the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane jests, ...vain janglings, charms or sinful lusts and practices.”[23]
  • Calvin found it intolerable “when a person is accused of blasphemy, to lay the blame on the ebullition of passion, as if God were to endure the penalty whenever we are provoked.”[24]

Catholic prayers and reparations for blasphemy[edit]

In the Catholic Church, there are specific prayers and devotions as Acts of Reparation for blasphemy.[25] For instance, The Golden Arrow Holy Face Devotion (Prayer) first introduced by Sister Marie of St Peter in 1844 is recited "in a spirit of reparation for blasphemy". This devotion (started by Sister Marie and then promoted by the Venerable Leo Dupont) was approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1885.[26] The Raccolta Catholic prayer book includes a number of such prayers.[27] The Five First Saturdays devotions are done with the intention in the heart of making reparation to the Blessed Mother for blasphemies against her, her name and her holy initiatives.

The Holy See has specific "Pontifical organizations" for the purpose of the reparation of blasphemy through Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ, e.g. the Pontifical Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of the Reparation of the Holy Face.[28]


The most common punishment for blasphemers was capital punishment through hanging or stoning, justified by the words of Leviticus 24:13-16.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring out of the camp the one who cursed, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And speak to the people of Israel, saying, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death."

The last person hanged for blasphemy in Great Britain was Thomas Aikenhead aged 20, in Scotland in 1697. He was prosecuted for denying the veracity of the Old Testament and the legitimacy of Christ's miracles.[29]


Writer Salman Rushdie was accused of blasphemy and subject of a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, in February 1989.
Main article: Islam and blasphemy

In Islamic literature, blasphemy is of many types, and there are many different words for it: sabb (insult) and shatm (abuse, vilification), takdhib or tajdif (denial), iftira (concoction), la`n or la'ana (curse) and ta`n (accuse, defame).[30] In Islamic literature, the term blasphemy sometimes also overlaps with infidel (kufr, disbeliever), fisq (depravity), isa'ah (insult), and ridda (apostasy).[31][32] There are a number of surah in Qur'an and sunnah in hadith relating to blasphemy, from which Quranic verses 5:33-34 and 33:57-61 have been most commonly used in Islamic history to justify and punish blasphemers.[33] For example,[33]

The only punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is that they should be murdered, or crucified, or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides, or they should be imprisoned. This shall he a disgrace for them in this world, and in the Hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement. Except those who repent before you overpower them; so know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

Those who annoy Allah and His Messenger - Allah has cursed them in this World and in the Hereafter, and has prepared for them a humiliating Punishment. Truly, if the Hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who stir up sedition in the City, desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them: Then will they not be able to stay in it as thy neighbours for any length of time: They shall have a curse on them: whenever they are found, they shall be seized and slain (without mercy).

A variety of actions, speeches or behavior can constitute blasphemy in Islam. Some examples include insulting or cursing Allah, or Muhammad; mockery or disagreeable behavior towards beliefs and customs common in Islam; criticism of Islam's holy personages. Apostasy, that is act of abandoning Islam, or finding faults or expressing doubts about Allah (ta'til) and Qur'an, rejection of Muhammed or any of his teachings, or leaving the Muslim community to become an atheist is a form of blasphemy. Questioning religious opinions (fatwa) and normative Islamic views can also be construed as blasphemous. Improper dress, drawing offensive cartoons, tearing or burning holy literature of Islam, creating or using music or painting or video or novels to mock or criticize Muhammad are some examples of blasphemous acts.[34][35][36][37] In the context of those who are non-Muslims, the concept of blasphemy includes all aspects of infidelity (kufr).

Blasphemy in different Islamic schools of jurisprudence[edit]

The Quran does not explicitly mention any worldly punishment for blasphemy (sabb allah or sabb al-rasul), as it does for apostasy (riddah). Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) of Sunni and Shia madhabs have declared different punishments for the religious crime of blasphemy, and they vary between schools. These are as follows:[38][39][40]

Hanafi – views blasphemy as synonymous with apostasy, and therefore, accepts the repentance of apostates. Those who refuse to repent, their punishment is death if the blasphemer is a Muslim man, and if the blasphemer is a woman, she must be imprisoned with coercion (beating) till she repents and returns to Islam.[41] If a non-Muslim commits blasphemy, his punishment must be a tazir (discretionary, can be death, arrest, caning, etc.).[42][43]
Maliki – view blasphemy as an offense distinct from, and more severe than apostasy. Death is mandatory in cases of blasphemy for Muslim men, and repentance is not accepted. For women, death is not the punishment suggested, but she is arrested and punished till she repents and returns to Islam or dies in custody.[44][45] A non-Muslim who commits blasphemy against Islam must be punished; however, the blasphemer can escape punishment by converting and becoming a devout Muslim.[46]
Hanbali – view blasphemy as an offense distinct from, and more severe than apostasy. Death is mandatory in cases of blasphemy, for both Muslim men and women, and repentance is not accepted.[47][48]
Shafi’i – recognizes blasphemy as a separate offense from apostasy, but accepts the repentance of blasphemers. If the blasphemer does not repent, the punishment is death.[32][49]
Ja'fari (Shia) – views blasphemy against Islam, the Prophet, or any of the Imams, to be punishable with death, if the blasphemer is a Muslim.[50] In case the blasphemer is a non-Muslim, he is given a chance to convert to Islam, or else killed.[51]

Some jurists suggest that the sunnah in hadith[52] provide a basis for a death sentence for the crime of blasphemy, even if someone claims not to be an apostate, but has committed the crime of blasphemy. Some[53][54] modern Muslim scholars contest that Islam supports blasphemy law, stating that Muslim jurists made the offense part of Sharia.

The Islamic law considers blasphemy against Muhammad a more severe offense than blasphemy against God. Repentance can lead to forgiveness by God when God is blasphemed, however since Muhammad is no longer alive, forgiveness is not possible when Muhammad is blasphemed, and the Muslim community must punish his blasphemy by avenging blasphemer's death.[38][55][56]

In Islamic jurisprudence, Kitab al Hudud and Taz'ir cover punishment for blasphemous acts.[57][58] The penalties for blasphemy can include fines, imprisonment, flogging, amputation, hanging, or beheading.[59] Many nations prescribe and carry out the death penalty for apostasy, a similarly motivated action, and Pakistan and Egypt demand execution for some blasphemers. Muslim clerics may call for revenge against an alleged blasphemer by issuing a fatwa (legal ruling), or simply provide guidelines on behaviors and lifestyle that is blasphemous. For example, in Malaysia, Islamic scholars issued a fatwa declaring yoga as blasphemous, because yoga is a form of spiritual practice in Hinduism.[60][61][62]

Notable cases and debate on blasphemy[edit]

One famous case of the Islamic blasphemy law was the fatwa against English author Salman Rushdie for his book entitled The Satanic Verses, the title of which refers to an account that Muhammad, in the course of revealing the Quran, received a revelation from Satan and incorporated it therein until made by Allah to retract it (see Satanic verses). Several translators of his book into foreign languages have been murdered.[63]

As of 2011, all Islamic majority nations, worldwide, had criminal laws on blasphemy. Over 125 non-Muslim nations worldwide did not have any laws relating to blasphemy.[64][65] In Islamic nations, thousands of individuals have been arrested and punished for blasphemy of Islam.[66][67] Several Islamic nations have argued in the United Nations that blasphemy against Muhammad is unacceptable, and laws should be passed worldwide to place "limits on the freedom of expression." Non-Muslim nations that do not have blasphemy laws, have pointed to abuses of blasphemy laws in Islamic nations, and have disagreed.[68][69][70]


Leviticus 24:16 states that he that blasphemes the name of the LORD "shall surely be put to death". In Jewish law the only form of blasphemy which is punishable by death is blaspheming the Ineffable Name.[71]

The Seven Laws of Noah, which Judaism sees as applicable to all people, prohibit blasphemy.[72]

The United Nations[edit]

In the early 21st century, blasphemy became an issue in the United Nations. The United Nations passed several resolutions which called upon the world to take action against the "defamation of religions".[73]

The campaign for worldwide criminal penalties for the "defamation of religions" had been spearheaded by Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on behalf of the United Nations' large Muslim bloc. The campaign ended in 2011 when the proposal was withdrawn in Geneva, in the Human Rights Council because of lack of support, marking an end to the effort to impose worldwide blasphemy strictures along the lines of those in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. This resolution had passed every year since 1999, in the United Nations, with declining number of "yes" votes with each successive year.[74]

In July, 2011, the UN Human Rights Committee released a 52-paragraph statement, General Comment 34 on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1976, concerning freedoms of opinion and expression.[75] Paragraph 48 states:

Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant, except in the specific circumstances envisaged in article 20, paragraph 2, of the Covenant. Such prohibitions must also comply with the strict requirements of article 19, paragraph 3, as well as such articles as 2, 5, 17, 18 and 26. Thus, for instance, it would be impermissible for any such laws to discriminate in favor of or against one or certain religions or belief systems, or their adherents over another, or religious believers over non-believers. Nor would it be permissible for such prohibitions to be used to prevent or punish criticism of religious leaders or commentary on religious doctrine and tenets of faith.

Colloquial usage[edit]

In contemporary language, the notion of blasphemy is often used hyperbolically. This usage has garnered some interest among linguists recently, and the word 'blasphemy' is a common case used for illustrative purposes.[76]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Avery, Kenneth (2004). Psychology of Early Sufi Sama: Listening and Altered States. Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 978-0415311069. 
  2. ^ Miriam Díez Bosch and Jordi Sànchez Torrents (2015). On blasphemy. Barcelona: Blanquerna Observatory on Media, Religion and Culture. ISBN 978-84-941193-3-0. 
  3. ^ "Blasphemy". Random House Dictionary. Retrieved 12 January 2015. Quote: impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.; the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God. 
  4. ^ Blasphemy Merriam Webster (July 2013); 1. great disrespect shown to God or to something holy
    2. irreverence toward something considered sacred or inviolable
  5. ^ Blasphemies, in Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th Ed,
    1. profane or contemptuous speech, writing, or action concerning God or anything held as divine.
    2. any remark or action held to be irreverent or disrespectful
  6. ^ a b Blasphemy Divide: Insults to Religion Remain a Capital Crime in Muslim Lands The Wall Street Journal (January 8, 2015)
  7. ^ a b c d Laws Penalizing Blasphemy, Apostasy and Defamation of Religion are Widespread Pew Research (November 21, 2012)
  8. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary – Blasphemy". Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  9. ^ (from Easton's Bible Dictionary) Romans.2:24Revelation.13:1;Rev.13:6;Rev.16:9;Rev.16:11;Rev.16:211Kings.21:10;Acts.13:45;Acts.18:6
  10. ^ Bad-mouthing: Pakistan’s blasphemy laws legitimise intolerance The Economist (November 29, 2014)
  11. ^ Sources of claims:
  12. ^ See Blasphemy law
  13. ^ Kerr, ine (9 July 2009). "Libel and blasphemy bill passed by the Dail". The Irish Independent. Retrieved 17 November 2009. 
  14. ^ "ANTI-DISCRIMINATION ACT 1991 – SECT 124A 124A Vilification on grounds of race, religion, sexuality or gender identity unlawful". Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  15. ^ "Victoria Police – Racial and religious vilification". Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), ''Report on the relationship between freedom of expression and freedom of religion: the issue of regulation and prosecution of blasphemy, religious insult and incitement to religious hatred'', 17–18 October 2008, Doc. No. CDL-AD(2008)026". Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  17. ^ See Blasphemy law and Hate speech.
  18. ^ ST II-II q10a3, q11a3, q12. Q11A3: "With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death."
  19. ^ Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica 2:2, q. 13.
  20. ^ The Book of Concord The Large Catechism, §55.
  21. ^ The Baptist Confession of Faith Ch. 23, §2–3.
  22. ^ The Heidelberg Catechism Q. 100.
  23. ^ Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 113.
  24. ^ Jean Calvin: Harmony of the Law vol. 4. Lev. 24:10.
  25. ^ Act of Reparation for Blasphemies Uttered Against the Holy Name, Righting Wrongs Through Prayer By Scott P. Richert,
  26. ^ * Dorothy Scallan. The Holy Man of Tours. (1990) ISBN 0-89555-390-2
  27. ^ Joseph P. Christopher et al., 2003 The Raccolta, St Athanasius Press ISBN 978-0-9706526-6-9
  28. ^ Letter for 50th anniversary of the Benedictine Sisters of Reparation of the Holy Face, 2000 Vatican archives
  29. ^ "Thomas Aikenhead". Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  30. ^ See:
    • Siraj Khan, Blasphemy against the Prophet, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture (ed: Coeli Fitzpatrick Ph.D., Adam Hani Walker), ISBN 978-1610691772, pp. 59-67;
    • Hassner, R. E. (2011). Blasphemy and Violence. International Studies Quarterly, 55(1), pages 23-4;
    • Lewis, Bernard. "Behind the Rushdie affair." The American Scholar 60.2 (1991), pages 185-196;
    • Stanfield-Johnson, R. (2004). The tabarra'iyan and the early Safavids. Iranian Studies, 37(1), pages 47-71
  31. ^ Talal Asad, in Hent de Vries (Ed.), Religion: Beyond a Concept, Fordham University Press (2008), ISBN 978-0823227242; pages 589-592
  32. ^ a b L Wiederhold L, Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions (sabb al-rasul, sabb al-sahabah) : The introduction of the topic into Shafi'i legal literature, Jrnl of Sem Studies, Oxford University Press, 42(1), pp. 39-70
  33. ^ a b Siraj Khan, Blasphemy against the Prophet, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture (ed: Coeli Fitzpatrick Ph.D., Adam Hani Walker), ISBN 978-1610691772, pp. 59-67
  34. ^ Association of Islamic Charitable Projects, The Types of Blasphemy (2010)
  35. ^ Lawton, D. (1993). Blasphemy. Univ of Pennsylvania Press
  36. ^ CW Ernst, in Eliade (Ed), Blasphemy - Islamic Concept, The encyclopedia of religion, New York (1987)
  37. ^ Marshall and Shea (2011), Silenced, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199812288
  38. ^ a b Saeed, Abdullah; Hassan Saeed (2004). Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam. Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. pp. 37–39. ISBN 978-0-7546-3083-8. 
  39. ^ Wiederhold, Lutz. "Blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad and his companions (sabb al-rasul, sabb al-sahabah): The introduction of the topic into shafi'i legal literature and its relevance for legal practice under Mamluk rule."Journal of semitic studies 42.1 (1997): 39-70.
  40. ^ Saeed, Abdullah. "AMBIGUITIES OF APOSTASY AND THE REPRESSION OF MUSLIM DISSENT." The Review of Faith & International Affairs 9.2 (2011): 31-38.
  41. ^
    • Abu al-Layth al-Samarqandi (983), Mukhtalaf al-Riwayah, vol. 3, pp. 1298–1299
    • Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (933), Mukhtasar Ikhtilaf al-Ulama, vol. 3, p. 504
    • Ali ibn Hassan al-Sughdi (798); Kitab al-Kharaj; Quote: “أيما رجل مسلم سب رَسُوْل اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ أو كذبه أو عابه أوتنقصه فقد كفر بالله وبانت منه زوجته ، فإن تاب وإلا قتل ، وكذلك المرأة ، إلا أن أبا حنيفة قَالَ: لا تقتل المرأة وتجبر عَلَى الإسلام”; Translation: “A Muslim man who blasphemes the Messenger of Allah, denies him, reproaches him, or diminishes him, he has committed apostasy in Allah, and his wife is separated from him. He must repent, or else is killed. And this is the same for the woman, except Abu Hanifa said: Do not kill the woman, but coerce her back to Islam.”
  42. ^ Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Tahawi (933), Mukhtasar Ikhtilaf al-Ulama, vol. 3, p. 504
  43. ^ P Smith (2003), Speak No Evil: Apostasy, Blasphemy and Heresy in Malaysian Syariah Law, UC Davis Journal Int'l Law & Policy, 10, pp. 357-373;
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  48. ^
    • Ibn Taymiyyah (a Salafi, related to Hanbali school), al-Sārim al-Maslūl ‘ala Shātim al-Rasūl (Translation: A ready sword against those who insult the Messenger), Published in 1297 AD in Arabic, Reprinted in 1975 and 2003 by Dar-ibn Hazm (Beirut)
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    • Ali ibn Ahmad al-Amili al-Thani (1602), Sharh al-Luma al-Dimashqiya, vol. 9, pp. 194-195;
    • Muhammad ibn al-Hassan al-Tusi (1067), Al-Nihaya, pp. 730-731 and Tadhib al-Ahkam, vol. 10, p. 85;
    • Ali ibn al-Hussein “Sharif al-Murtada” (1044). Al-Intisar, pp. 480–481;
    • Ali ibn Babawaih al-Qummi al-Saduq (991), Al-Hidaya fi al-Usul wa al-Furu, pp. 295–297
  51. ^ Ali ibn al-Hussein al-Murtada (1044), Al-Intisar, pp. 480-481
  52. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari, 3:45:687, Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:369
  53. ^ Declan O'Sullivan (2001), The Interpretation of Qur'anic Text to Promote or Negate the Death Penalty for Apostates and Blasphemers, Journal of Qur'anic Studies, 3(2), pp. 63-93
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  59. ^ "Islamic Voice". Islamic Voice. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
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  71. ^ "BLASPHEMY -". 
  72. ^ "The Seven Noachide Laws - Jewish Virtual Library". Retrieved 8 November 2014. 
  73. ^ U.N. Resolutions:
  74. ^ An Anti-Blasphemy Measure Laid to Rest Nina Shea, National Review (MARCH 31, 2011)
  75. ^ General Comment 34
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