The history of laws involving blasphemy in America reveals the intense desire of its Christian inhabitants to preserve, protect, and defend the sanctity of their faith, their Bible, and their God. One definition of blasphemy is:
To curse God means to scoff at God; to use profanely insolent and reproachful language against him. This is one form of blasphemy under the authority of standard lexicographers. To contumeliously reproach God, His Creation, government, final judgment of the world, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, or the Holy Scriptures, is to charge Him or Them with fault, to rebuke, to censure, to upbraid, doing the same with scornful insolence, with contemptuousness in act or speech. This is another form of blasphemy (32)
Blasphemy was made a criminal act in every single colony in America with punishments that varied from fines to the death penalty. The bible was most often the subject of such legislation. In Massachusetts the General Court had enacted a law titled, "An Act Against Atheisme and Blasphemie," under its Province Laws of 1697 which declared:
"That if any person shall presume willfully to blaspheme the holy name of God, Father, Son or Holy Ghost, either by denying, cursing or reproaching the true God, his creation, or government of the world; or by denying, cursing or reproaching the Holy Word of God, that is the canonical Scriptures contained in the books of the Old and New Testaments; names, Genesis, Exodus,. . . Jude, Revelation; every one so offending shall be punished by imprisonment not exceeding six months and until the find sureties for the good behavior by setting in the pillory, by whipping, boreing through the tongue with a red hot iron, or setting upon the gallows with a rope about his neck."(33)
The General Assembly of Maryland had passed a law in 1723, which prohibited any one from "wittingly, maliciously and advisedly, by writing or speaking, blaspheme or curse God, or deny our Savior Jesus Christ to be the Son of God,. . shall, for the first offense, be forged through the tongue, and fined twenty pounds sterling..." On a second offence the offender was to "be stigmatized by burning in the forehead with the letter B, and fined forty pounds sterling." For the third offence the offender was to "suffer death without benefit of the clergy."(34)
A Pennsylvania act of 1700 provided:
That whosoever shall willfully, premeditadly and despitefully blaspheme or speak loosely and profanely of Almighty God, Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Scriptures of Truth, and is legally convicted thereof, shall forfeit and pay the sum of ten pounds, for the use of the poor of the county where such offense shall be committed, or suffer three months imprisonment at hard labor as aforesaid, for the use of the said poor.(35)
In Delaware, a law passed in 1741, required that one guilty of blasphemy was to be "branded in his or her forehead with the letter B, and be publicly whipped on his or her bare back, with thirty-nine lashes well laid on."(36) The General Court of Connecticut, in 1750, enacted a law that required the death penalty for any person guilty of blasphemy.(37)
In none of the colonies was the act of blasphemy tolerated or allowed as evident by the laws that prevailed throughout the colonial period. Such laws remained in effect and were continued to be enacted after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. The courts invariably have held such laws to be valid and constitutional. Laws against blasphemy have been upheld so as to maintain public order and decency. Also being intoxicated "is no excuse, and only aggravates the offense."(38)
The earliest case in the United States involving blasphemy, that of THE PEOPLE against RUGGLES,(39) the New York Supreme Court, in 1811, found the defendant guilty of blasphemy for "wantonly, wickedly, and maliciously uttering the following words; Jesus Christ was a bastard, and his mother must be a whore." Chancellor Kent read the opinion of the court:
The authorities show that blasphemy against God, and contumelious reproaches and profane ridicule of Christ or the holy scriptures, are offences punishable at common law, whether uttered by words or writings.. . .in both instances, the reviling is still an offence, because it tends to corrupt the morals of the people, and to destroy good order. Such offences have always been considered independent of any religious establishment or the right of the church. They are treated as affecting the essential interests of civil society.
The people of this state, in common with the people of this country, profess the general doctrines of christianity, as the rule of their faith and practice; and to scandalize the author of these doctrines is not only, in a religious point of view, extremely impious, but even in respect to the obligations due to society, is a gross violation of decency and good order. Nothing could be more offensive to the virtuous part of the community, or more injurious to the tender morals of the young, than to declare such profanity lawful.
In 1838, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided the case of COMMONWEALTH verses KNEELAND, in which it had convicted an editor of a newspaper for writing, printing and publishing a libelous and blasphemous article denying Jesus Christ, a willful denial of God and ridicule of addressing prayers to God, and blasphemous words concerning the Holy Scriptures. In deciding on the constitutionality of the statute against blasphemy, the court held that such legislation is not repugnant to constitutional guarantees of "religious freedom" or involving "liberty of the press."(41)
In the case of THE STATE vs. CHANDLER(42) the defendant, Thomas J. Chandler, was indicted for blasphemy for "unlawfully, wickedly, and blasphemously in the presence and hearing of divers citizens, pronounced these profane and blasphemous words, viz: that the virgin Mary was a whore and Jesus Christ was a bastard." The defense relied on the alleged unconstitutionality of the statute against blasphemy, as being the law preferring Christianity to other modes of worship. The Supreme Court for Delaware, in finding the defendant guilty of blasphemy, gave the following decision:
It appears to have been long perfectly settled by the common law, that blasphemy against the Deity in general, or a malicious and wanton attack against the christian religion individually, for the purpose of exposing its doctrines to contempt and ridicule, is indictable and punishable as a temporal offence. And it further appears that although a written publication of blasphemous words, thereby affording them a wider circulation, would undoubtedly be considered as an aggravation of the offence, and affect the measure of punishment, yet so far as respects the definition and legal character of the offence itself, it is immaterial whether the publication of such words be oral or written.
In the State of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court heard the case of UPDEGRAPH against THE COMMONWEALTH in 1824,(43) regarding the issue of blasphemy. The defendant, Abner Updegraph, was indicted for blaspheming "the Christian religion and the scriptures of truth." The court stated:
No society can tolerate a willful and despiteful attempt to subvert its religion, no more than it would to break down its laws-a general, malicious and deliberate intent to overthrow Christianity, general Christianity. This is the line of indication, where crime commences, and the offence becomes the subject of penal visitation.
The species of offence may be classed under the following heads- 1. Denying the being and providence of God. 2. Contumelious reproaches of Jesus Christ; profane and malevolent scoffing at the scriptures, or exposing any part of them to contempt and ridicule. 3. Certain immoralities tending to subvert all religion and morality, which are the foundations of all governments. Without these restrains no free government could long exist. It is the liberty run mad, to declaim against the punishment of these offences, or to assert that the punishment is hostile to the spirit and genius of our government. They are far from being true friends to liberty who support this doctrine.
In a later and similar case in Pennsylvania, that of ZEISWEISS versus JAMES et al,(44) there was a charge filed against an individual for blasphemy of the Holy Scriptures. The Supreme Court, in upholding the charge, stated:
It is in entire consistency with this sacred guarantee of the right of conscience and religious liberty to hold that, even if Christianity is no part of the law of the land, it is the popular religion of the country, an insult to which would be indictable as directly tending to disturb the public peace. The laws and institutions of this state are built on the foundation of reverence for Christianity. To this extent, at least, it must certainly be considered as well settled that the religion revealed in the Bible is not to be openly reviled, ridiculed or blasphemed, to the annoyance of sincere believers who compose the great mass of the good people of the Commonwealth.
In the case of STATE vs. MOCKUS,(45) the Supreme Court of Maine decided that a statute "making it a crime to blaspheme, is not unconstitutional as denying religious freedom or freedom of speech." The respondent was found guilty of blasphemy for speaking in a public address; that "there was no virgin birth by Mary through the Holy Ghost, that there is no truth in the Bible as it is only monkey business, and that Jesus Christ was a fool." The court held that:
In view of all these things, shall we say that any word or deed which would expose the God of the Christian religion, or the Holy Scriptures, "to contempt and ridicule," or which would rob official oaths of any of their sanctity, thus undermining the foundations of their binding force, would be protected by a constitutional religious freedom whose constitutional limitation is nondisturbance of public peace? We register a most emphatic negative.
From the tenor of the words, it is impossible to say that they could have been spoken seriously and conscientiously, in the discussion of a religious or theological topic; there is nothing of argument in the language; it was the outpouring of an invective so vulgarly shocking and insulting that the lowest grade of civil authority ought not to be subject to it, but when spoken in a Christian land, and to a Christian audience, it is the highest offence contra bonos mores (against good morals).
The fact that only the Christian religion has ever been protected by law from blasphemy in America, is further proof that America was established as a Christian Nation. Under our Organic law, Christianity is the only faith or religion that can be protected in such manner. However when the people voluntarily accept another system of law (i.e., 14th Amendment & socialism) other religions will be held to be as sacred as Christianity under that system and likewise protected by it, thereby given "equal protection of the law."
Since all other religions on earth are merely a device of man, whereas Christianity is the will of the eternal God, all of man's religions are naturally repugnant to Christianity. To practice and promote the tenets of any of man's religions would tend to result in blasphemy of Christianity. This is one reason why the founding fathers of this nation did not tolerate such religions to be practiced in their midst. They had made the God of the Christian Bible the center and author of their faith and made it a crime to blaspheme Him. "For if slander against men is not left unpunished, much more do those deserve punishment who blaspheme God.")
(32) The State v. Mockus, 113 Atl. 39, 42; 120 Me 84, (1921).
(33) The Acts and Resolves of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, Vol. I, (Boston__1869), p. 297.
(34) John B. Dillon, "Oddities of Colonial Legislation in America," (1879), p. 30,31. Also; Maxcy's Laws of Maryland, Vol. I, p.169.
(35) Dillion, p. 36, 37. Also; Dallas' Laws of Pennsylvania, Vol. I, p. 11.
(36) Dillion, p. 39.
(37) Dillion, p. 39.
(38) The People vs. William Porter, 2 Parker's Crim. Rep. 14 (N.Y. -- 1823)
(39) The People against Ruggles, 8 Johson Rep. 290 (N.Y. -- 1811).
(41) Commonwealth vs. Kneeland, 20 Pickering 206.
(42) The State vs. Chandler, 2 Harrington 553; 2 Delaware 553, (1837).
(43) Updegraph against The Commonwealth, 11 Sergeant and Rawle's Rep. 393..
(44) Zeisweiss vs. James, et al., 63 Penn. State Rep. 465, (1870).
(45) State vs. Mockus, 113 Atlantic Rep. 39; 120 Main 84, (1921).