Today’s Opinion: Blasphemy

POSTED: 05/24/11 1:26 PM

There is something endearing about the weak knees of the liberal VVD in the Netherlands. The party that wants to be the next best thing to Geert Wilders is doing everything possible to please the SGP – the Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij.

This religious splinter faction occupies just two seats in the Second chamber and in terms of votes won at the last elections Mark Rutte’s party is almost twelve times bigger. But with the support of the Freedom Party, CDA and VVD are hanging on to a razor thin one-seat majority so the government needs all the friends it can find to remain in office for the full four-year term. Even more important is the role the SGP will play in the Senate.

Yesterday the VVD-CDA-Freedom Party combination won 37 seats in the first chamber, one short of a majority. The SGP has one seat and since this party from the religious right is prepared to support the government on major issues, rutte seems to be heading for a full four-yesr term in government.

To achieve that, the coalition partners have to keep the SGP happy. That’s why the VVd suddenly no longer supports the desire of businesses to be open on more Sundays during the year. This was the first friendship gesture to the religious SGP, but this week the liberals outdid themselves by also withdrawing their support for a D66-initiative to take blasphemy out of the penal code.

The law that regulates “scornful blasphemy” dates back to 1932. Its author is Justice Minister Jan Donner, the grandfather of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations minister Piet Hein Donner. The reason for introducing the legislation has to do with the way communists in the thirties dealt with religion. They considered religion a tool capitalist rulers used to keep the population under control with the promise of the hereafter.

The communist newspaper De Tribune published anti-religious articles and caricatures. In 1930 the newspaper called for the abolition of the Christmas celebration. Two years later it published a cartoon showing two workers axing the cross of Christ.

Donner made public blassphemy punishable by up to three months imprisonment and a for the time hefty fine of 150 guilders. Scorning God has been forbidden ever since, though criticizing God escaped the ban.

The lawp prohibits mocking preachers and priests, taunting re;ligious objects and publishing blasphemic publications. Someone who violates this last ban repeatedly within a two-year time frame can be kicked out of the publishing business.

Showing hurtful blasphemic slogans or images in public carries a penylty of one month imprisonment.

But the law has mostly been a dead letter. When the writer Gerard Reve published his “Letter to my bannk” in Dialogue, a magazine for homsoexuality and society, SGP-parliamentarian Van Dis almost chioked on his bvreakfast and filed a complaint with the office of the public prosecutor.

This is a liberal translation of Reve’s piece that brought him into a courtroom in 1966: “If God gives himself again in Living Substance, he will return as a donkey, at best able to formaluate a couple of syllables, disregarded, reviled and beaten, but I will understand him and go to bed with him immediately, but I will put bandages around his little hooves, so that I do not sustain to many scratches when he flounders when during his orgasm.”

The court ruled that the text amounted to blasphemy, but that the words did not have a scornful character. Reve appealed the ruling and was acquitted. The supreme court confirmed this ruling in April 1968. Shortly afterwards, Reve received the prestigious P.C. Hooft prize for his work.

With such a history it is not surprising that D66 thought it about time to remove the legislation from the penal code. The VVD initially supported this initiative, but now the liberals have changed their mind because they are courting the religious SGP – the party that does not want women on its candidate lists for elections – expecting them to keep the government alive.


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