Lebanon’s religious demographics are less homogenous than those of its neighbors. The Muslim population is split between Shia and Sunni, and a third is composed of Maronite Christians. Lebanon’s relationship to Islam, religion, and irreligion is thus characterized by this sectarian balancing act. To placate potential religious conflict, Lebanon uses a confessionalist system, which divides government positions between Christians, Sunnis and Shias. Among the 18 state-recognized religious groups, atheist or irreligious is not one of them. Laws against blasphemy exist in this context of protecting offenses between religions, more than towards irreligious or atheist people themselves. While the Lebanese constitution theoretically grants freedom of religion, blasphemy laws have been invoked, both between religious sects and against irreligious people.

History of Blasphemy & Apostasy Laws


Islam arrived during the 7th century AD, after the Muslim conquest of Syria. From 1516, until World War I, Lebanon was under Ottoman rule, after which it was governed under French mandate until the Syrian Revolt. Under Article 9 of the new Lebanese constitution, religious courts delegated personal matters.

Lebanon’s policies vis a vis religion are contextualized by its unique sectarian situation and the desire to preserve harmony. Religion is codified, in the executive branch, by the 1943 National Pact, stipulating that the president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament be Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shia Muslim, respectively. Most Lebanese governmental positions are reserved based on religious affiliation; since atheism/irreligion is not legally recognized, atheist or irreligious citizens are limited in their ability to hold these positions. 

The country’s religious favoritism initially skewed Christian. Maronites were overtly favored by the Constitution, and between 1924 and 1926, reforms for Muslim equality and secular education were rejected under pressure from the Maronite Church. However, Islamization accelerated in Lebanon as in other Muslim countries following the 1979 Iranian revolution. Sectarian conflict culminated in a 15 year civil war and concluded with the 1989 Taif Agreement, demanding equal representation of Christians and Muslims in office.

Current Status

Lebanon’s “blasphemy laws'' are upheld by four articles of the penal code, established in 1943. Defined as offenses towards Christianity and Islam, blasphemy is punishable by a minimum of 3 years to a maximum of 6 years in prison according to artice 474. 

Article 473 criminalizes “blaspheming God publicly,” punishable by one month to one year. Article 474 punishes “contempt of religion” and “defaming religious rites” by up to three years imprisonment. Article 475 criminalizes the “distortion of religious rituals or ceremonies or religious drawings related to those rituals.” Article 317 criminalizes “writings and speech intended to provoke sectarian or racial strife or [to] encourage conflict between different religious sects” with up to 3 years.

In 2009, the requirement for citizens’ ID cards to list religious affiliation was removed. During an election campaign in March 2014, former President Michael Suleiman referenced his stance on irreligion: “Peace will defeat war. Faith will defeat fundamentalism and atheism.”

Cases of Persecution in Lebanon
Historic al-Saeh book collection run by Father Ibrahim Sarrouj torched, employee Bashir Hazzouri shot
Mohammed al-Dhaibi mutilated and murdered for blasphemous comment
Poet Mustafa Sbeity arrested for blasphemy