People v. Ruggles 1811: Christianity and Government


[W]hatever strikes at the root of Christianity tends manifestly to the dissolution of the government… because it tends to corrupt the morals of the people, and to destroy good order… [O]ffenses against religion and morality… strike at the root of moral obligation and weaken the security of of the social ties. (People v. Ruggles)

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22 thoughts on “People v. Ruggles 1811: Christianity and Government

  1. [O]ffenses against religion and morality… strike at the root of moral obligation and weaken the security of of the social ties.

    That kind of language can be co-opted by any religion.
    Any religion at all.

    “The Mutaween in Saudi Arabia are tasked with enforcing Sharia as defined by the government, specifically by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). The Mutaween of the CPVPV consists of “more than 3,500 officers in addition to thousands of volunteers…often accompanied by a police escort.” They have the power to arrest unrelated males and females caught socializing, anyone engaged in homosexual behavior or prostitution; to enforce Islamic dress-codes, and store closures during the prayer time. They enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as anti-Islamic (such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film which has material contrary to Sharia law or Islam itself). Additionally, they actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of other religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.

    Among the things the Mutaween have been criticized or ridiculed for include, use of flogging to punish violators, banning Valentines Day gifts, arresting priests for saying Mass, and being staffed by “ex-convicts whose only job qualification was that they had memorized the Qur’an in order to reduce their sentences.”

    Perhaps the most serious and widely criticized incident attributed to them occurred on March 11, 2002, when they prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning school in Mecca, because the girls were not wearing headscarves and abayas (black robes), and not accompanied by a male guardian. Fifteen girls died and 50 were injured as a result. Widespread public criticism followed, both internationally and within Saudi Arabia.

    In June 2007 the Saudi Mutaween announced “the creation of a ‘department of rules and regulations’ to ensure the activities of commission members comply with the law, after coming under heavy pressure for the death of two people in its custody in less than two weeks”.

    In some Western countries like Canada, the Mutaween practices, especially those targeting women, are officially recognized as culture-based persecution (for the refugee-status hearings).”
    (Source: Wikipedia)

  2. But it wasn’t any religion was it? It was Christianity. It is evidently better to live in a country in which the people who were here in the beginning were Christians than to live in a country where islam has its influence. The evidence is the American life. And the quality of the American life is due in part to court decisions like People v. Ruggles.

    1. But it wasn’t any religion was it? It was Christianity.

      Yes, but a Mutaween can say the same thing. That’s how they justify their actions.

      Daniel, I wonder if you can wrap your head around the notion that blasphemy laws (a hallmark hangover of ancient superstitions and Stone Age barbarism) cannot help but harm your freedom of speech?

      Exactly. You are making a rod for your own back.

      By the way, there is still blasphemy today. Just watch how the culture reacts when words like “faggot” and “queer” are mentioned.

      Ok, that was odd. Get the hence to a dictionary.

  3. The issue at hand was one of blasphemy, namely “Jesus Christ was a bastard, and his mother must be a whore.” The question brought forth to the court was whether this would be considered a public offence by the law of the land.

    It was until 1952 when the Supreme Court ruled on J. Burstyn, Inc vs Wilson making blasphemy laws unconstitutional (although they are still on the books in several states).

    Daniel, I wonder if you can wrap your head around the notion that blasphemy laws (a hallmark hangover of ancient superstitions and Stone Age barbarism) cannot help but harm your freedom of speech?

    (And it takes willful negligence to state that “the people who were here in the beginning” were all the same kind of christian who could agree on what constituted blasphemy – excluding the aboriginals, of course, who have been around some 10,000 years longer but whose opinion on blasphemy against any and all christians you completely ignore.)

  4. If Christian so differed on what constituted blasphemy, how did the court see clearly to rule in this instance? And by the way, they ruled that differences of opinion did not matter to the law, but the issue was how it was said. One could say that Christ was an illegitimate child and Mary wasn’t married and still be within the law. The court ruled in this case in such a way as to preserve the foundations of morality.

    By the way, there is still blasphemy today. Just watch how the culture reacts when words like “faggot” and “queer” are mentioned. There are still things that we hold sacred. They’re just different things.

  5. Well, this is the problem: one person’s blasphemy is another person’s astute observation. And, like censorship laws, always produce controversy about enforcing one person’s opinion on someone else by reducing that latter person’s rights. And we see this played out repeatedly wherever blasphemy laws are stupidly inserted into civil codes of law.

    Expressions of intolerance aimed at promoting discrimination are not the same thing as blasphemy against the sacred. Blasphemy produces no victims because ‘the sacred’ are not sacred independent of someone’s beliefs, whereas discrimination reduces civil rights of real people. Your rights are not infringed in any way if Ruggles said “Jesus Christ was a bastard, and his mother must be a whore.” Your beliefs may suffer insult without you suffering a reduction of rights, but imposing blasphemy laws does make real victims.

  6. “Jesus Christ was a bastard, and his mother must be a whore” is NOT an astute observation. It is meant to inflame and offend the listener. And it didn’t offend an opinion; it offended the very life of the society at the time. Over time we have changed into our current society which no longer holds as sacred the very thing from which the life of our society previously flowed: Christianity. It has become a personal thing. No more is it something that envelopes the entire life of the society or the individual. So, naturally, when someone insults the sacred now, we don’t care as much because the foundation has already been eroded.

  7. So, Dan, do you think we should bring back anti-blasphemy laws? If so, what exactly would you prohibit? Would it be illegal to ‘blaspheme’ all beliefs, or only your own? Would any of us infidel bloggers have reason to fear?

    1. No, we shouldn’t bring back those laws. We’ve lost the life as a society that we once had. Our whole consciousness was different. It would be pointless to bring back the outward forms that previous life produced and force them onto this current life.

      1. OK, let me rephrase the question. Would you like our society to return to that “whole consciousness” and then impose anti-blasphemy laws? Do you believe that such laws are just in the context of such a society?

      2. That’s an interesting question, but it looks like you’re dodging mine. If you believe that people ought to be punished for blasphemy, say so, and then we can talk about whether or not such a law is just. Come on, now. You said, “the quality of the American life is due in part to court decisions like People v. Ruggles.” So do you believe in it or not?

      3. If we returned to our previous “consciousness” anti-blasphemy laws would not need to be imposed, as you say it, they would be naturally produced. You ask if the laws are just within that society’s context. And, I first ask you whether or not pro-abortion laws are just within the context of this society? If society is the standard and the law maker, then, yes, the anti-blasphemy and the pro-abortion laws are just within their respective contexts. However, society is not the standard I look to because it is based off of an unjustified bias in the society one merely happens to be in at the time. I try to base my judgments on an objective truth as I find it; one that exists apart from mankind.

        As for whether I understand these laws to be right or not, there needs to be a distinction: between honest and respectful dialogue, and vulgar inflammatory remarks. All questions should be permitted, but vulgarities and intentionally hurtful language should not. These comments aren’t fruitful, but are intended to cut. We were not made to be vulgar and cutting. So, yes, if the consciousness of the society is right, there should be a nominal penalty for those types of remarks. If the consciousness is not right, there is no point to that law when there is no virtue left for the law to preserve. The preservation of that virtue is what the law was intended to do.

      4. As for whether I understand these laws to be right or not, there needs to be a distinction: between honest and respectful dialogue, and vulgar inflammatory remarks.

        Why?

        All questions should be permitted, but vulgarities and intentionally hurtful language should not.

        Again, why? Let’s say I call you a nasty name and I hurt your feelings. So what?

        These comments aren’t fruitful, but are intended to cut. We were not made to be vulgar and cutting.

        Sure. Granted I said something vulgar and cutting and fine and biting and snakish and mean-spritited and just oh-so-awful…well..so what? You don’t have the right not to be offended.

        So, yes, if the consciousness of the society is right, there should be a nominal penalty for those types of remarks.

        What penalty? Are you going to send someone to prison for suggesting that your parents were not married? Or that your posterior is overly large? Or that you are a female orifice? Or perhaps that you are filled with fecal matter?

        I don’t think you understand what it is that you are promoting. If such laws were introduced, they would destroy the freedoms you yourself enjoy.

        It’s ok to insult you or me or someone else. It’s also ok to insult your beliefs or my beliefs or someone else’s beliefs. There is no insult (no matter how “cutting”) that you could shout at me that would make me lock you up or take your money even if I had the power to do so.
        I reserve the right to give as good as I get but…I’m not going to call the police over it.
        In my society, you are fully protected.
        (shrug)

        No, we shouldn’t bring back those laws.

        Well, good.

        …there should be a nominal penalty for those types of remarks.

        You need to make up your mind. Waving your hands in the air about vague notions of “consiousness” is not some get-out-of-jail-free card.
        You are making a rod for your own back.
        Protect free speech and you protect yourself. We’ve had blasphemy laws in many societies. It’s been an ugly experience.
        Don’t go there.

        As Believers We Should Respect Blasphemy Laws Revealed In The Bible & Quran – Dr Tahir ul Qadri

      5. Cedric,

        You ask why I say vulgar and cutting remarks are wrong? Because as a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Jesus pointed out that wrongful acts start in the mind first. He said, for example, that whoever looks at a woman with lust commits adultery in his heart. What people are in their thought world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword. Laws that curb vulgar speech preserve virtue in the collective consciousness of a people. If you see no problem with vulgar speech it is because that particular virtue has already left your heart and there is nothing left to preserve.

    2. What people are in their thought world determines how they act.

      You can’t read people’s minds, Dan.
      Thought crime is a really creepy concept. Don’t embrace it.

      Laws that curb vulgar speech preserve virtue in the collective consciousness of a people.

      That’s the motto that any dictator could live with. The Mutaween could put in on their belt buckles. You really shouldn’t be promoting this at all. It’s stunning how you are prepared to flush Enlightenment principles down the toilet without a moment’s thought.

      Religion as the source of immorality | Hitchens

  8. Dan, I replied without re-reading my previous comment. I did ask you if you thought such a law was just, but remember that my question was whether *you* think it’s just according to your beliefs.

  9. Cedric’s reply is excellent. Let me add this: The Bible demands much more than a “nominal penalty” restricted only to the most rude acts of blasphemy. The entire Old Testament is one long, murderous diatribe calling for the absolute destruction of anyone who fails to bend their knee to Yahweh, and the New Testament ups the ante by promising apocalyptic wrath and eternal torture to unbelievers, no matter how polite they are.

    The subsequent history of Christianity is a large-scale acting out of these principles, in the form of inquisitions, crusades, witch hunts, pogroms, enslavements, and countless rackings, burnings, and breakings upon the wheel. This is what comes from your “objective truth” that “exists apart from mankind” when it’s put earnestly into practice.

    Fortunately our society has grown more humane during recent centuries, for reasons that have little or nothing to do with religion. Your own watered-down approach to blasphemy is evidence of that; your suggestion that “all questions should be permitted” would have gotten you arrested for heresy in earlier times. But your squishy, almost-anything-goes liberality (relatively speaking!) doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to trust religious zealots with the power to regulate speech. We’ve been there. We’re not going back.

    1. Sometimes, Pretentious Ape, I think about setting non-believer’s Biblical interpretations right, but I just don’t think it will have an effect. In an age when interpretation is a matter of private opinion, the battle is already lost. Suffice it to say, there is a right and there is a wrong, regardless of what men think about it. And the Bible is of no private interpretation.

      It would help if you moved past this modern understanding of Biblical words, times, and cultures; which is no understanding at all. It’s just like if someone from today were to read Aristotle and Plato through from end to end. This person could write books expounding their philosophy, and all without understanding a single sentence. Unless he has enough imagination, and enough power of detachment from the established meanings or thought-forms of his own civilization, to enable him to grasp the meaning of fundamental terms– unless he has the power of not only thinking, but of unthinking– he will simply re-interpret everything they say in terms of subsequent thought.

      1. That the Bible teaches religious intolerance is not some modern misinterpretation. This message is explicit, repetitive, and plain to anyone who reads it, and this has been the traditional understanding of the Bible throughout the church’s bloody history. What I wrote above is only a “modern understanding” in that I condemn the Bible’s iron age barbarity rather than accepting it as God’s will.

      2. How foolish we are to think the written word means what it says! That’s why truth claims from scripture that are shown to be false suddenly reveals an ‘interpretive flaw’ from previous times (after holding the old meaning to be the infallible word of god, no less)! But now – now! – we have finally gotten it right, you see, because reality has shown us how to ‘interpret’ these claims properly, but we will never, ever, admit that reality arbitrates the word of our gods because then our gods wouldn’t be supreme, you see.

        And that’s why we see inquiry that leads to knowledge to always, always, always to be a one way street: science produces knowledge, forcing religious ‘revelation’ that makes a factual claim to retreat again and <i.again and again. But still, thanks to people like Daniel, theology backed only by scripture proven false countless times still carries with it the attached power that it comes from god and so must be The Truth (TM)… right up until it’s not, in which case it’s evidence of man’s inherent broken nature to interpret god’s word incorrectly. Heads god wins, tail humanity loses.

        Why can’t supporters see theology for the mug’s game it is, making fools of them? Yet still people like Daniel think they have the interpretive ability long proven to be utterly lacking to make secular law and then use secular punishment against those who have compelling reasons and history of success criticizing scripture for its inaccuracies even if it causes offense to the delicate sensitivities of its foolish believers. Why can’t they see themselves as agents of foolishness, ignorance, and arrogance trying to abuse public office to punish those of us who actually care about what’s true? Why can’t their god and writings attributed to that influence withstand critical analysis by being true rather than this feeble attempt to go back a millennium and make victims of those who dare support what’s true over foolishness that is known to be if not factually wrong then likely misinterpreted?

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