Jonathan Zimmerman: America's War on BlasphemyRoundup: Historians' Take
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press).
In 2007, George Kalman received notice that he had violated a law against blasphemy. But Kalman wasn't in Pakistan, Egypt, or any of the other Middle Eastern countries that have burst into violence over an anti-Muslim YouTube video.
No, Kalman was right here in Pennsylvania. After filling out a form to register his new film company as "I Choose Hell Productions L.L.C.," the Downingtown resident got a letter informing him that his request was rejected under a state law barring "blasphemy, profane cursing, or swearing" in corporate names.
At the time, just five other states still had anti-blasphemy laws on the books. But such measures were ubiquitous across America for three centuries, from the founding of the colonies into the mid-20th century. As we try to understand the current anger and mayhem in the Middle East, then, we might pause to examine our own history of religious intolerance.
It starts, like so much else, with the Puritans. Although we still tell our kids that the Puritans came to the New World to find "freedom," their laws tell another story. In 1636, for instance, the Massachusetts Bay Colony made blasphemy - defined as "a cursing of God by atheism, or the like" - punishable by death....
comments powered by Disqus
- Donald Trump Is Wrong on Mosul Attack, Military Experts Say
- Emmett Till memorial sign is riddled with bullet holes and has been repeatedly vandalized
- Posthumous pardons law may see Oscar Wilde exonerated
- Has an Election Ever Been Rigged in U.S. History?
- A short history of white people rigging elections
- Steven Runciman — historian, tease and professional enigma — is the subject of a biography
- Historian Eric Foner: Trump is Logical Conclusion of What the GOP Has Been Doing for Decades
- Ken Burns developing 'The Gene' based on Mukherjee's bestseller
- Does the 'Father' of the 1948 Ethnic Cleansing Narrative Really Want to Recant His Words?
- Max Boot wants to know “what the hell happened to my Republican Party?"