Former schoolteacher Albert Voss has been fined €500 (about $550) by the western German city of Münster for having pro-atheism bumper stickers displayed on his car. Voss’ car was seized by law enforcement and his license suspended after a complaint was filed by an unknown individual.
Some of the stickers read:
The church is looking for modern advertising ideas. I can help.
Jesus, our favorite artist: hanging for 2,000 years and he still hasn’t got cramp.
Let’s make a piligrimage with Martin Luther to Rome! Kill Pope Francis. The Reformation is cool.
While I certainly don’t advocate for violence and do not condone death threats, however legitimate or not, Voss was convicted for blasphemy, not inciting violence.
Here in the US, we seem to take freedom of speech for granted. On a regular basis, I get told that I’m being fascist or infringing someone’s First Amendment rights when I delete their comment or ban them. That’s not remotely close to fascism and is certainly not infringing on any rights. Everybody has the right to not understand the First Amendment. The First Amendment protects you from the government jailing you for posting whatever asinine comment that I deleted, but not from everyone else thinking you’re an asshole.
What I think most people do when responding to comments.
Despite this, some states in the US also have blasphemy laws on the books, such as Massachusetts General Law Section 36:
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.
The German judge told Voss “You should have known that what you did is a criminal offense,” and that “The Pope and the cross are central elements of the Catholic faith. I do not consider this art. Freedom of expression is limited by the law.”
While I certainly don’t agree with Voss’ implementation of wishing harm on others, one can safely assume that Martin Luther himself would have had similar thoughts towards the Pope after his excommunication.
This is concerning and comes at a time where other European countries are moving to strike blasphemy laws from the books. Tragically, countries like Saudi Arabia have recently executed citizens for speaking up against religion.
I firmly believe that people always need to be treated with respect, however ideas are not people. If we are not allowed to criticize or mock bad ideas (religion), then they are allowed to persist.
If your religious beliefs are so weak that they can be impinged by a snarky bumper sticker, then perhaps it’s time for you to re-examine your beliefs.