It was only in 1979 that the Constitutional Court affirmed the equality of rights for the non-religious, and only in 1987 that laicità (secular neutrality with respect to religions) became a Constitutional Principle (again thanks to a judicial ruling of the Court). 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 (offence to a religious confession by defamation of a person, and of things, respectively, see below).
Article 404 states criminalizes “offending a religious confession” in a public place, or place of worship, or anyone who “vilifies with insulting expressions” various religious ideas, punishable with a fine from €1,000 to €5,000. The article also specifies a prison term of up to 2 years for “Anyone who publicly and intentionally destroys, scatters, deteriorates, renders useless or smears things that are objects of worship or are consecrated to worship or are necessarily destined to be worshipped”. The overlap here with criminal damage and inflation of the crime purely for “religious” objects is problematic, but so far it appears that a prison term would not apply except in cases of physical damage to religiously-defined property.
Blasphemy per se also remains an administrative offense (article 724); it was a penal offense until as late as 1999.
In 2009 Manlio Padovan, a member of the Union of Rationalist Atheist and Agnostics, Unione degli Atei e degli Agnostici Razionalisti (UAAR), funded a poster advertising campaign with the slogan “The bad news is that no god exists. The good news is you don’t need one”. The posters were removed by the police in order to “safeguard the religious sentiment”. Mr. Padovan was also prosecuted, and finally acquitted three years later, under criminal charges of defamation of religion.
The same slogan was refused by the media company IGPDecaux, when the same year UAAR asked for it to circulate on buses in Genova, because it was “offensive to the believers of the great monotheistic religions”.