The right to blaspheme is not a right most of us make much use of these days, and for excellent reason. In modern Western free societies, we take it absolutely for granted that nobody can enforce religious dogma on anybody else. And since we take it for granted, few of us feel much need to make a big deal about denying and defying other people's dogmas. It feels stupid and rude precisely because it is pointless. Nobody's compelling you to respect the Host, so you are merely a jerk, not a martyr, if you gratuitously insist on disrespecting something so holy to so many of your neighbors.
The same holds true for each and every one of the other religious doctrines that flourish in a free society. It may seem strange to others that some of us avoid pork, or wear turbans, or begin the day with close study of books written in Greek 2000 years ago—but whether strange or not, we show respect to others as we'd wish respect shown to us.
The basis of this exchange of respect, however, is the shared understanding that it's fully voluntary. It's not policed by the state; it's not enforced by violent vigilantes. When religious authority begins to be backed by compulsion, resistance to religious authority acquires a different character, too. When she defies the threat of violence, the former jerk can become a genuine martyr.
Yet even as Western societies have jettisoned their laws against blasphemy, many democratic societies have experimented with a different kind of speech restriction, intended to protect human beings rather than God. Maybe the classic text is the French law of 1972 that forbids incitement to hatred, discrimination, or violence on the basis of race or religion. (The law was subsequently amended to include gender, sexual orientation, or disability.)
Hate-speech laws remain highly controversial. But whether they are wise or dangerous, their purpose is secular: to protect people by restricting speech intended to abrogate their human rights. God, it is thought, can look after Himself. Thus, under French law, it would be hate speech to shout, "Kill the Jews!" It would not be hate speech to denounce Jewish kosher slaughter as inhumane. It would be hate speech to say, "No Muslim can be a patriotic French citizen." It would not be hate speech to write, "The Koran is not true."
Americans who'd like to inscribe some concept of hate speech into U.S. law don't always understand the distinction that the Europeans draw between affront to people and dissent from doctrine. Yesterday, The New York Times editorial board had this to say about the attempted terror attack in Garland, Texas:
The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom. ... Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam campaigner behind the Texas event, has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims.
Whether fighting against a planned mosque near ground zero, posting to her venomous blog Atlas Shrugs or organizing the event in Garland, Ms. Geller revels in assailing Islam in terms reminiscent of virulent racism or anti-Semitism. She achieved her provocative goal in Garland—the event was attacked by two Muslims who were shot to death by a traffic officer before they killed anyone.
Those two men were would-be murderers. But their thwarted attack, or the murderous rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers, or even the greater threat posed by the barbaric killers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event.
Anti-Muslim bigotry is a real and ugly phenomenon. But there's a necessary distinction to be drawn between vilifying people and repudiating their beliefs. Blasphemy isn't bigotry. Applying the single term "Islamophobia" blurs that difference: conflating the denial of a belief with discrimination against the believer.