A Christian woman was recently sentenced to death in Pakistan for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam. Her accusers: the women she worked with. Putting aside the absolute obscenity of sentencing someone to death for mere opinions, there is the more ominous possibility that this is nothing more than a legal lynching.
The story indicates that her presence was resented by her Muslim co-workers--so much so that she was considered too "unclean" to even bring them water. Those same co-workers apparently are the ones who accused her and testified against her.
Buried in the story is a sentence that briefly mentions one of the nasty little secrets of religion:
"Human rights activists want the blasphemy law repealed as
they say it is often exploited by Islamist extremists or those
harbouring personal grudges."
There are cases where it is fairly clear that a blasphemy accusation has been trumped up simply to settle personal scores. Such as this example where Christian parents were sentenced to 25 years in prison because their kids got into a squabble with some Muslim kids and this example in which the extremist Muslims couldn't wait for the legal lynching and shot the accused on the street.
The death sentence given to this woman seems most likely to be a similar case.
Another article about this case also mentions that the law is used most frequently against religious minorities, which is not surprising given that their very religion is an implicit insult to Islam. By adopting another religion they are implicitly saying that they found it to be better than Islam. Furthermore, religious minorities are most likely to be targeted successfully because the majority is ready to believe that the religious minority would insult their religion.
What is telling is the combination of these two observations. Religious minorities are most likely to be targeted and prosecutions are often based on false evidence offered by those with a grudge against the accused or someone connected to him.
To that you may say "whew, I am glad that doesn't happen here". To which I reply "yes, it does". Our system, thankfully, doesn't provide the mechanism for a pure legal lynching such as can occur in countries with blasphemy laws, but there is more than one way to use the extreme egotism and intolerance of the religious against those who are unpopular or who anger the wrong people.
There are many people in the U.S. who believe that there should be blasphemy laws and it is those people who represent the danger. They are ready, eager and willing to "do something" about "bad people"--even if it requires illegal, even criminal, actions. To such people it doesn't take much for a person to be seen as a "bad person". Mostly, all a person has to do is be different, especially with regard to religious belief.
I have already mentioned how religion often seems to be simply a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and how it can become especially dangerous when a believer has NPD independent of his or her religion. One of the symptoms of NPD is a psychological phenomenon called "splitting" in which the sufferer splits the world into good and evil. In this phenomenon the "evil ones" are seen as completely evil and their every action, word, or thought is interpreted in light of this pre-conceived conclusion. Things that others could do or say without criticism or condemnation from the NPD sufferer will be seen as completely evil, confirming everything the NPD sufferer thinks about that person.
This, essentially, is what happens to members of religious minorities--especially atheists. If an atheist doesn't seem completely sympathetic to the gay rights movement, he will be labeled a bigoted homophobe, yet the same atheist can later be labeled a moral reprobate who supports the "homosexual agenda" (and shouldn't be allowed to have kids because they will "turn out gay") if he says things that support gay rights. Atheists are in a no-win situation; no matter what we say, it's not just wrong, it's evil.
It has been my experience that words and behaviors that would be considered disturbed or disturbing coming from an atheist will be completely unnoticed coming from a believer. Believers can talk about being eager for death, the end of the world, or the extermination of the "godless" etc., and none of the other believers feels the slightest disapproval, much less the need to take action. But, let an atheist express anger over the way he is treated and he will be labeled as an "extremely disturbed" person that "someone should do something about".