The famous photographer Oliviero Toscani has been convicted to pay €4000 with the accusation of “insulting religion” for saying that, to an alien just arrived on our planet, the Catholic Church would look like a masochistic club. Toscani will now appeal to the Constitutional Court to overturn the sentence.
UPDATE 28 OCTOBER: a more detailed article of our Italian Member UAAR (Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics) pointed out that a private citizen like Toscani cannot appeal alone to the Constitutional Court to overturn the sentence, a capacity that only another judge has.
Oliviero Toscani is an Italian photographer famous worldwide for his powerful photos used in many Benetton’s advertising campaigns. In 2014, during a radio show called La Zanzara (“the Mosquito”), Toscani said the following sentence:
Imagine to be an alien who has just landed in Italy. You enter in a beautiful Catholic church, without knowing anything about religion. You enter and you see a bloodied man hanged and nailed to a cross, an altar with naked babies flying, Saint Bernard without the skin… I believe that a masochist club wouldn’t be such at the upfront.
During the same show Toscani has also underlined the sexist nature of the Catholic Church (“a men-only club”, he said) and the fact that, while he was a kid, he had been molested by a priest.
5 years later, a judge has convicted Toscani to pay €4000 with the accusation of “offence to a religious confession by defamation of a person”, a criminal offence under article 403 of the penal code. In the sentence, the judge Ambrogio Moccia motivates his decision in the following way:
Defining Christ on the cross as “someone hanged” is a manifestation of the profound disrespect for the values of Christianity, disrespect comparable only to the worst propagandist language of a Muslim fundamentalist preacher.
The judge also added that, by making fun of the Crucifix (“highest expression of the trinitarian and saving God”) Toscani has overstepped the boundaries of the law with “overflowing and striking surplus”.
The Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics, a Member of Humanists International, commented on the sentence as follows:
Beyond what one can think of Toscani’s point of view, it’s disconcerting that we still see this kind of punishment for blasphemy in our country. It is also emblematic the fact that the language used in the sentence is so peremptory and religious, and the judge went so far to even point out that the skinned martyr Toscani was referring to was not Saint Bernard but rather Saint Bartholomew.
Gary McLelland, CEO of Humanists International, commented on the sentence in this way:
13 countries across Europe still have blasphemy laws, and Italy is one of them. This sentence is very concerning as it follows Willy Toledo’s blasphemy sentence in Spain last year and the recent judgement of the European Court of Human Rights about an Austrian woman who criticised a figure of the Islamic faith.
As humanists we keep advocating for the full and immediate abolition of all blasphemy laws worldwide, but especially in Europe. We do this because in predominantly Islamic states, where blasphemers face prison or death penalty, governments often justify the use of their blasphemy laws by pointing to the existence of such laws in Europe.
We hope that Italy’s Constitutional Court will overturn the sentence against Toscani, opening the way for the full abolition of blasphemy laws in Italy. In the meantime, we invite all humanist organizations and individuals around the world to join our coalition to #EndBlasphemyLaws worldwide.
Humanists International is indeed a founding member of the End Blasphemy Laws campaign, launched in 2015 after Charlie Hebdo’s attack with the goal of abolishing blasphemy laws worldwide