Blasphemy Illegal in Massachusetts!

"Illegal? Not here!"

Massachusetts statute 272 s. 36 reads as follows:

"Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior."

Blasphemy is legally defined "as 'the malicious reviling of God or religion.' The purpose of this statute has been said to be the protection and preservation of the Christian religion." (Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS), 1997) To prove a charge of blasphemy, one must prove "a willful denial of God, the intention being to impair or destroy the veneration due to Him." (Massachusetts Practice, 1987), or to prove that the defendent "[spoke] evil of the Deity with an impious purpose to derogate from the divine majesty, and to alienate the minds of others from the love and reverence of God." (Mass. General Laws Annotated).

An example of a statement of "blasphemous libel" is taken from Commonwealth v. Kneeland (1838):

"The Universalists believe in a God, which I do not, but believe that their God, with all His moral attributes (aside from nature itself), is nothing else than a chimera of their imagination."

The jury's instructions in this case was that this public denial of the existance of any God except the material universe constitutes a violation of the statute. Therefore, the SSOMIT homepage, our t-shirts, and many of our discussions and activities are grounds for criminal penalties, according to this statute.

This statue was determined to be constitutional in the cases Commonwealth v. Kneeland (1834) and (1838), although CJS claims that, in today's legal climate, this would certainly be held unconstitutional.

But, it's still on the books! It hasn't been used, therefore it hasn't come up for challenge, and the legislature (like the legislatures of CO, LA, MD, MI, OK, and RI) hasn't specifically removed it. Both pro-choice activist Bill Baird and professional skeptic James Randi have made attempts to provoke arrest and prosecution under this law, but to no avail.

Also interesting one is 272 s. 37:

"Whoever wilfully interrupts or disturbs an assembly of people met for worship of God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars."

Non-religious gatherings do not share this priviledge.

Something to think about in Massachusetts. From now on, SSOMIT materials will have to carry appropriate warning labels!

Comments: <ssomit-officers@mit>