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  • 2015 : The Italian Court of Cassation and the Return to the Blasphemy Law

In Italy, it was only in 1979 that the Constitutional Court (decision n° 117) affirmed the equality of rights for the non-religious (see Alla “scoperta” del principio di laicità dello stato. Verso la piena realizzazione dell’eguaglianza “senza distinzione di religione” ?) and only in 1989 that, again thanks to a constitution jurisprudence (see the decision n° 203/1989) the secular principle (in Italian laicità) became a “supreme principle of the constitutional order”.
However, separate laws on “defamation of religion” and “blasphemy” remain in force. Defamation of religion is still a criminal offense under Articles 403 and 404 of the Penal code, which regulate offences to a religious confession by defamation of a person, and of things, respectively. Blasphemy per se also remains an administrative offense (Article 724) ; it was a penal offense until as late as 1999.
Now, with the 13 October 2015 decision (n° 41044), the Italian Court of Cassation marks the return to “the blasphemy law”, in the classic sense of the expression. The case regards a triptych panting that, exposed in the centre of Milan, shows the former Pope Benedict XVI having a homosexual sexual intercourse with the papal secretary Georg Gänswein. The Court of Cassation has condemned the author of the triptych, a seventy-year old gentleman, on the grounds of infringements of Article 403 of the Italian Penal Code blasphemy or offences against religions (see A cinque anni dalla riforma dei reati in materia di religione : un commento teorico-pratico degli artt. 403, 404 e 405 c.p.).
In particular, the Court affirms in this sentence that the criticism of a religion is lawful when deriving from an analysis carried out by qualified personnel having relevant experience and knowledge in this area. On the contrary, they said painting produces blasphemy because the criticism stems from a person that, without skills, ignores the values of some institutions (namely the Pope) within a given religious community – the Catholic Church (see La Cassazione : basta con la satira offensiva sul Papa e l’arte ingiuriosa verso la fede).

D 15 octobre 2018    AFrancesco Alicino

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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