A new report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom says Nigeria’s blasphemy laws have to go. USCIRF recommendations help guide the U.S. State Department in matters of foreign policy.
“I remember when some of the northern states in Nigeria were putting these Sharia laws in place,” The Voice of the Martyrs USA spokesman Todd Nettleton says.
“The claim at the time was, ‘Well, hey, you don’t need to worry about this because it’s only going to apply to Muslims anyway.’ Now, 12 years down the road, that certainly is not how the laws are being enforced.”
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Nigeria’s constitution protects religious freedom. However, northern states embrace and enforce Islamic codes, including blasphemy laws. In August, the high court in Nigeria’s Kano state ruled that Sharia law does not violate the constitution.
“Can you enforce a blasphemy law and also have religious freedom? It depends on how you define ‘blasphemy’; you can define it very broadly. [For example,] a Muslim who leaves Islam: are they committing blasphemy by saying, ‘Hey, I don’t follow Muhammad any longer. I follow Jesus’?” Nettleton asks.
“I don’t think you can have religious freedom and blasphemy laws at the same time.”
As described here, “insults to religion have historically triggered popular unrest beyond security forces’ capacity to contain.” In other words, simply accusing someone of blasphemy is enough to cause mob violence. A mob killed a Christian college student in May and burned her body after someone accused her of blasphemy.
Terrorist groups and other Muslims in the north want to drive Christians out and create a separate nation governed by Islamic law. “All northern states now have some type of Sharia law on the books,” Nettleton says.
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“Jesus’s call is the same: to go out and make disciples. He doesn’t say, ‘unless there’s a blasphemy law in place.’ So, Christians know their calling is the same, but the risks are higher when there are laws like this on the books,” Nettleton says.
This story originally appeared at Mission Network News and is republished here with permission.