Religious Censorship

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Censorship by religion is a form of censorship where freedom of expression is controlled or limited using religious authority or on the basis of the teachings of the religion. This form of censorship has a long history and is practiced in many societies and by many religions. Examples include the Edict of Compiègne, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books) and the condemnation of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses by Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.


Religious censorship is defined as the act of suppressing views that are contrary of those of an organized religion. It is usually performed on the grounds of blasphemy, heresy, sacrilege or impiety – the censored work being viewed as obscene, challenging a dogma, or violating a religious taboo. Defending against these charges is often difficult as some religious traditions permit only the religious authorities (clergy) to interpret doctrine and the interpretation is usually dogmatic. For instance, the Catholic Church banned hundreds of books on such grounds and maintained the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (list of prohibited books), most of which were writings that the Church’s Holy Office had deemed dangerous, until the Index’s abolishment in 1965.

Some works named in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum are the writings of Desiderius Erasmus, a Catholic scholar who argued that the Comma Johanneum was probably forged and De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, a treatise by Nicolaus Copernicus arguing for a Heliocentric orbit of the earth, both works that at the time contradicted the Church’s official stance on particular issues.

In Christianity

Once the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 changed the nature of book publishing,[1] as of the 16th century, in most European countries both the church and governments attempted to regulate and control printing. Governments established controls over printers across Europe, requiring them to have official licenses to trade and produce books.[2] [3] In 1557 the British Crown aimed to stem the flow of dissent by chartering the Stationers’ Company. The right to print was restricted to two universities and to the 21 existing printers in the city of London. In France, the 1551 Edict of Châteaubriant included provisions for unpacking and inspecting all books brought into France.[4][5] The 1557 Edict of Compiègne applied the death penalty to heretics and resulted in the burning of a noblewoman at the stake.[6]

A first version of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“List of Prohibited Books”) was promulgated by Pope Paul IV in 1559, and multiple revisions were made to it over the years. The final (20th) edition appeared in 1948, and it was formally abolished on 14 June 1966 by Pope Paul VI.[7][8]

In Islam

Similar methodology has been carried out under Islamic theocracies, such as the fatwa (religious judgment) against The Satanic Verses (a novel), ordering that the author be executed for blasphemy.

Some Islamic societies have religious police, who enforce the application of Islamic Sharia law. Their authority may include 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 Islamic prayer time.[9][10]

These religious police enforce Muslim dietary laws, prohibit the consumption or sale of alcoholic beverages and pork, and seize banned consumer products and media regarded as un-Islamic, such as CDs/DVDs of various Western musical groups, television shows and film.[9][10] In Saudi Arabia, religious police actively prevent the practice or proselytizing of non-Islamic religions within Saudi Arabia, where they are banned.[9][10] This included the ban of the film, The Passion of the Christ.


  • Depictions of Muhammad have inspired considerable controversy and censorship in the 2000s, including the image to the right.
  • Scientific theories
    • Biological evolution (Fundamentalist Islam, Fundamentalist Christianity, Charedi Judaism)
  • Literature
    • Works by Taslima Nasrin (Fundamentalist Islam)
    • The Da Vinci Code was banned in Samoa.
    • The Power and the Glory: The Cult of Manalo was banned by the Philippine sect Iglesia ni Cristo from being published in the Philippines.
  • The Profit is a feature film written and directed by Peter N. Alexander in 2001. Little seen, worldwide distribution of the film was prohibited by an American court order, the result of a lawsuit by the Church of Scientology although the filmmaker claims that the film is not about Scientology.
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    1. ^ McLuhan, Marshall (1962), The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1st ed.), University of Toronto Press, ISBN 978-0802060419 page 124
    2. ^ MacQueen, Hector L; Charlotte Waelde and Graeme T Laurie (2007). Contemporary Intellectual Property: Law and Policy. Oxford University Press. pp. 34. ISBN 9780199263394.
    3. ^ de Sola Pool, Ithiel (1983). Technologies of freedom. Harvard University Press. pp. 14. ISBN 9780674872332.
    4. ^ The Rabelais encyclopedia by Elizabeth A. Chesney 2004 ISBN 0313310343 pages 31-32
    5. ^ The printing press as an agent of change by Elizabeth L. Eisenstein 1980 ISBN 0521299551 page 328
    6. ^ Robert Jean Knecht, The Rise and Fall of Renaissance France: 1483-1610 2001, ISBN 0631227296 page 241
    7. ^ Cambridge University on Index.
    8. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica: Index Librorum Prohibitorum
    9. ^ a b c SAUDI ARABIA Catholic priest arrested and expelled from Riyadh – Asia News
    10. ^ a b c BBC NEWS | Middle East | Saudi minister rebukes religious police
    11. ^ “Le Prophète Mahomet”. L’art du livre arabe. Retrieved 03-02-2007.
    One comment on “Religious Censorship
    1. Trouble is that naked human bodies should not be shown and this clear fact does not require believing in the “myth” of being the first censorship ever done with fig leaves. The clear answer to censorship of the [sic] “internet” will actually make it VASTLY more open and was suggested by the Supreme Court in the landmark error of Reno v ACLU (96-511) that promoted the hopelessly vague slang of [sic] “internet” into an inappropriate singular noun.

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