Despite commitments in Israel’s “Basic Law” to freedom of religion or belief, and expression, the penal code limits expression on religion in broad terms, criminalizing publications or utterances that might “crudely offend the religious faith or sentiment of others”.
Israel’s “Basic Law” describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state” and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which promises religious freedom and full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation. However, various issues of religion or belief discrimination persist, and personal status and family law are recognised as discriminating against the non-religious (there is no civil marriage in Israel) and women, who are often marginalised by religious laws that limit freedom of choice in matters of divorce and marriage.
Israel’s Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty protects freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression.
However, Article 173 of the country’s penal code constitutes a de facto “blasphemy” law, mandating a one year term of imprisonment if: “One publishes a publication that is liable to crudely offend the religious faith or sentiment of others,” or if “One voices in a public place and in the hearing of another person any word or sound that is liable to crudely offend the religious faith or sentiment of others.”