Last week, Switzerland’s parliament rejected by 115 votes to 48 a proposal to abolish the crime of blasphemy in Switzerland.
Beat Flach proposed the motion, arguing that defining blasphemy as a crime places limits on free speech. We should not punish people for criticising religion, believes Flach. Instead he thinks Switzerland should send a strong signal in favour of liberty of expression.
The motion comes on the heels of French President Emmanuel Macron’s outspoken support for free speech following the beheading of a teacher in France.
However, despite Beat Flach’s arguments a majority of Switzerland’s parliament voted to retain Switzerland’s anti blasphemy law.
Freedom of expression is not without limits, said Karin Keller-Sutter, one of Switzerland’s federal councillors.
Article 261 of Switzerland’s criminal code is not aimed only at ensuring we live together peacefully but also at respecting religious convictions and beliefs and legally protecting minorities against persecution.
Beat Flach argued that laws against racism, insult and defamation offer sufficient protection. He thinks it is anachronistic for a liberal secular state to have a law specifying blasphemy as a crime. It means religion cannot be criticised to the same extent as other philosophical opinions, he argued, pointing out that other countries, such as Ireland, have already removed the crime of blasphemy from their laws.