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Abolish the Blasphemy Paragraph Now!

Institut für Weltanschauungsrecht (ifw) presents draft law

After the murder of French teacher Samuel Paty, the Giordano Bruno Foundation reiterated its demand for the abolition of the "blasphemy paragraph" 166 of the German Criminal Code, which it had already raised after the "cartoon controversy" in 2006 and after the terrorist attack on the satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" in 2015. The Institut für Weltanschauungsrecht (ifw - Institute for Secular Law), founded by the gbs, has now published a draft law on this issue, with which the "fundamentalist-friendly censorship paragraph" could easily be abolished.

"An appropriate response to the intimidation attempts of militant Islamists is needed in Germany too," the gbs had demanded on its Facebook page in October after the murder of Paty. "By deleting § 166 of the German Criminal Code (StGB) without replacement, the legislator would make it unmistakably clear that freedom of opinion in a modern, open society must be given greater weight than the 'hurt feelings' of religious fundamentalists".

Ronen Steinke, SZ editor for security and justice, picked up on this demand in early November in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ): " Now it is time for sovereignty. Germany must finally abolish the paragraph on blasphemy. Otherwise, violent protests by fundamentalists against artists and satirists will prevail". Gerhard Strate, one of Germany's most renowned criminal defence lawyers, came to the same conclusion in his commentary on the website of the "Neue Juristische Wochenschrift" (NJW): "Our courts should no longer be put in the embarrassing position of having to protect irrational religious beliefs from their critics. Dedicated teachers and other critical minds should at least be able to rely on legal certainty when they are in fear of their lives. We owe this to the legacy of Enlightenment".

After "lèse-majesté", the "blasphemy paragraph" must fall!

But how realistic is it to expect German parliamentarians to heed these well-founded arguments today more readily than in 2015, when they rejected a corresponding Bundestag petition submitted by the gbs with flimsy arguments? To clarify this question, the Institut für Weltanschauungsrecht (ifw) has analyzed the current election programs of the Bundestag parties and comes to the conclusion that abolition would be possible if the government factions CDU/CSU and SPD modernized their positions and adapted them to today's social and constitutional standards.

Jacqueline Neumann, head of the ifw, sees a parallel here to the criminal norm of "lèse-majesté", which was abolished in 2017 in the course of the "Erdoğan-Böhmermann affair": "The repeal of § 103 StGB can serve as a model today. Abolition was not part of the government's programme in 2017 either, but it was years overdue and, in view of the escalating events, was agreed and implemented within a short time. As an impulse for debate, the ifw has prepared a concise draft law to abolish § 166 StGB, which can readily be taken up by politicians".

Leading by example!

A glance at the world map of countries hostile to freedom reveals how important this would be, in which Germany does not side with France regarding the freedom of expression, but with Turkey. In this context, the Giordano Bruno Foundation had already pointed out in 2015 that while German politicians had been working alongside the United Nations for years to abolish blasphemy laws in other countries, this demand would be far more credible "if Germany led by example and deleted § 166 of the German Criminal Code without replacement".

Although in Germany - in contrast to many Islamic countries - mere criticism or "revilement" of a religion is not punishable, but only those forms of criticism that are likely to endanger public peace, paradoxically "it is precisely this intended protection of public peace that leads to a threat to public peace": "The wording of § 166 encourages believers to take militant action against satirical art. For this is the only way they can show that public peace is endangered by the alleged violation of their religious feelings".

The bitter consequence: according to German law, the surviving satirists of Charlie Hebdo could have been convicted because their drawings incited fundamentalists to commit acts of terror! In order to prevent such a reversal of the perpetrator-victim relationship, there is, as the ifw has now also pointed out, a simple solution which - apart from religious fundamentalists - should not hurt anyone, i. e. the deletion without replacement of the "anachronistic censorship paragraph" 166 StGB!

Draft law on reform of offences against religious faiths and religious and ideological communities
(Original source: ifw website as translated by the gbs)

A. Problem and objective

The criminal provision of Section 166 of the German Criminal Code (Revilement of religious faiths and religious and ideological communities) is intended to protect the content of the religious or ideological beliefs of others or to protect the institutions or customs of a church or other religious community or ideological association existing in Germany against revilement and to protect public peace. The range of penalties extends to imprisonment for up to three years or a fine.

The protection against reviling and the protection of public peace appear to be sufficient given the criminal offences of insult (§ 185 StGB), malicious gossip (§ 186 StGB), defamation (§ 187 StGB) and incitement of masses (§ 130 StGB). The notion that religious or ideological confessions, persons or groups require protection beyond the scope of §§ 130, 185, 186, 187 StGB no longer appears to be contemporary. § 166 StGB is therefore dispensable and can be repealed.

B. Solution

§ 166 of the German Criminal Code is to be repealed.

C. Alternatives


D. Budgetary expenditure excluding compliance costs

No budgetary expenditure excluding compliance costs is expected.

Draft law on reform of offences against religious faiths and religious and ideological communities

The Bundestag has adopted the following law:

Article 1: Amendment of the Criminal Code

The Criminal Code in the version promulgated on 13 November 1998 (BGBl. I p. 3322), last amended by Article 1 of the Act of 9 October 2020 (BGBl. I p. 2075), shall be amended as follows:

1. in the table of contents, the reference to section 166 shall be formulated as follows: "§ 166 (deleted)".

2. section 166 is repealed.

Article 2: Entry into force

This law will enter into force on 1 January 2021.