Greek life 8/20 -- Think Greek -- from Mediterranean cuisine...

Greek life 8/20 -- Think Greek -- from Mediterranean cuisine including souvlaki and moussaka to bouzouki music and Greek dancing -- and take a chance to win top-shelf prizes including a Mercedes-Benz or a 13-foot Boston Whaler at the annual Greek Festival at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption. All together, there are more than 300 prizes. While you're there, take a free, guided tour of the Byzantine-style church. The festival runs 5-10 p.m. Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday, 1-11 p.m. Saturday and 1-10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 20-23, 430 Sheep Pasture Rd. in Port Jefferson ADMISSION $2 (free younger than 12) PHONE 631-473-0894 WEB kimisis.org Credit: istock/ istock

If someone insults your mother, your natural response is to want to punch them in the nose. Likewise, religious believers have no patience with those who insult their religion or their God.

Insulting a person’s religion is, alas, too common around the world. Secular comedians find religion an easy target now that women and ethnic groups are no longer acceptable fodder. Religious leaders can also be acerbic in attacking religions other than their own. After the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic church turned from insults to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. Instead of calling Protestants heretics, we speak of separated brothers and sisters. We are also much more careful when speaking of Muslims and Jews. Goodbye to prayers about “perfidious Jews,” let alone talk of “Christ killers.”

Not only do we recognize that insulting words can lead to violent actions, we also recognize that every person has the dignity of a child of God and should be treated with respect and given the freedom to follow his or her conscience.

But how should we respond when our religion is attacked?

In the United States, blasphemy and verbal or written attacks on religion are protected by the First Amendment. We don’t like it, but we tolerate it because we do not want government policing religious debate.

But in many countries, there are laws that punish expression deemed blasphemous. In some countries, blasphemy is punishable by death.

There are many reasons these laws are a mistake: they place governments in the role of determining religious truth, they empower the state to enforce a particular religious view on its population, and they are also subject to abuse when enemies or business rivals falsely accuse their opponents of blasphemy. Rarely are false accusers punished.

Often these laws are defended as a means of preserving religious peace, but they can be used to stir up religious hatred for economic or political reasons.

While anti-blasphemy laws should be repealed, a small step in the right direction would be to criminalize false accusations. Not criminalizing blasphemy does not mean being silent in the face of contemptuous speech. Believers have a right to speak out against those who treat their religion with contempt.

Believers of every faith must join in urging governments to stay out of the policing of religious speech. At the same time, believers must join in condemning contemptuous and hateful speech directed at any religious group. Those who believe their religion is held up to contempt are less likely to turn to violence if they hear others coming to their defense with condemnations of insulting and blasphemous words.

This is excerpted from a piece Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest, wrote for National Catholic reporter.