Blasphemy, democratic free speech and the European Court of Human Rights

Over the last three decades the European Court of Human Rights has routinely upheld convictions by national courts for blasphemous expression. Although merely criticizing or denying religious beliefs is protected by the European Convention, the Court has observed that ‘abusive attacks’ on religious symbols may warrant punishment by the national authorities. In the view of the Court, provocative anti-religious expression could be conceived as a ‘malicious violation of the spirit of tolerance’, and may endanger ‘religious peace’. This paper critically examines the Court’s approach to blasphemy, offense, and free expression in a democracy.