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Colonial Cases

Attorney General v. Minzinjok, 1931

[blasphemy]

Attorney General v. Minzinjok

Palestine
1931
Source: The Palestine Bulletin, 14 August 1931

 

CURSED BE YOUR RELIGION.

Interesting Judgment Which Creates A Precedent.

   There is probably no phrase more commonly on the lips of the man in the street of Palestine, when he loses his temper, than "Yelaan deemak."  The words are not confined to, if originated by, Muslims, Oriental Jews and Arab Christians equally indulge in the habit of cursing the other man's religion.

   It has always been considered that it was possible for persons to bring an action against those who "cursed their religion," on the ground that these words constituted blasphemy. Mr. Cressall has now given a judgment in which it is laid down that uttering "Yelaan deemak" is not a punishable offence. The question arose in the case of the Attorney-General against Anastasia bint Ivan Minzinjok and Alex. bin Karnabli Minzinjok.  The facts are apparent from the interesting judgment which we give in full.

Attorney General

v.

1. Anastasia bint Ivan Minzinjok

2. Alex. Bin Karnabli Minzinjok.

   The offence for which defendants are charged is worded in the Blasphemy Ordinance No. 43 of 1929, as follows:

"Any person who in a public place and in the hearing of another person utters any word or sound calculated or intended to outrage the religious feelings or belief of such other person shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for one year."

   As charges under the Ordinance are frequently brought it may not be out of place to examine the essentials that constitute the offence of "blasphemy" which is really what the Ordinance aims at.  As far as I am aware there is no similar provision in the Ottoman Penal Code - the nearest approach being contained in Article 99 (a) which forbids the manifestation of public conduct in opposition to the manners and tenets of any religion recognised by the Government.  The offence has been created by statute and any adjudication on the Ordinance, therefore must be in accordance with the principles of legal interpretation obtaining in England.

   In England the term "blasphemy" is generally accept to mean "the use of language or writing against Christianity accompanied by such an element of vilification, ridicule, or irreverence as would be likely to exasperate the feelings of others and so lead to a breach of the peace."

   English Courts of Law do not and never did punish irreligious words as offences against God.  As to them they held that "deorum injuria dis curae." They dealt with such words or writings for their manner, violence or ribaldry or, more fairly stated, for their tendency to endanger the peace there and then, to defame public morality generally, or to shake the fabric of society and to be a cause of civil strife. (Per Lord Sumner in Bowman v. Secular Society Ltd., (H.L.) 117 L.T. Reports at page 179.)

 In other words the offence must be associated with, and constituted by, violent, offensive or indecent words of such a nature that would, in the opinion of reasonable men (as represented by a jury) tend to incite the commission of a breach of the public peace or generally to be a cause of civil strife.

   Where Creeds And Doctrines Are Legion.

   Such is the Law of England and the same guiding principles that are there applied to offences against Christianity must be applied also in Palestine to any of the several religious countenanced by the law of the land, be it Muslim, Hebrew or Christen.  The basic factor of these principles is, as I have already stated, the tendency of the language used to disturb the public peace.  That this is so is, because the attitude of the law towards all religions must depend, fundamentally, on the safety of the State and not on the doctrines or metaphysics of those who profess them, -- and this is particularly so in a country like Palestine where creeds and doctrines are legion.

   It follows therefore, as a matter of logic, that there must be some standard upon which the Court can act; for words which may shock the feelings of one person may be treated by another contemptuously as better being punished with indifference than by imprisonment.  This standard is to be found in the class of language used as well as from the circumstances surrounding its use.

   In the present case it is ludicrous to believe that any rational being could allow his feelings to become exasperated, to the point of endangering the public peace, at the language used by the defendants.  In fact, the evidence on this point supports the view that Haj Abdul Rahman - the injured party - apart from being physically unable to disturb the peace, had no intention of doing so.  In answer to a question put to him by the Court he declared: "I could not beat them without first asking my master's permission," clearly showing that, so far as he was concerned, the outraging of his religious feelings - (to paraphrase the words of the ordinance) depended on his master's approval, who, incidentally, professes another faith.

Contemptuous Indifference.

   I suggest to him and to others that the proper measure of punishment, in similar circumstances, is not to be found in a prosecution before the Courts, but in an attitude of contemptuous indifference.  I am tempted to add that an inordinate sensitiveness to views expressed by others (who may be ignorant people) about one's religion is the worst service that can be done towards the promotion of that faith among others who profess contrary beliefs.

   For the reasons given I am of opinion that no offence has been committed and the charge of blasphemy against the defendants is dismissed.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School