Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Blaspemy laws to be abolished

The law of blasphemy is a long-standing part of our constitutional settlement. It recognises the unique role which the Christian faith has played in shaping our law, culture and values over many centuries. Atheists and others calling for abolition wrongly argue that the law is a threat to free speech. The reality is that there have been no successful prosecutions since 1977, when the editor of the Gay News received a £500 fine for publishing a highly offensive pornographic poem about Christ.

The moderate blasphemy law stands in marked contrast to the proposal for a homophobic hatred offence which carries a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail. Gay rights groups want a homosexual blasphemy law.

The Church of England has commented on the Government's amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to abolish the blasphemy laws. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, have made public their response to the Government's consultation. In their response the Archbishops make clear their affirmation of the central place of Christianity in British public life and call on the Government to explain precisely what the removal of the blasphemy laws does and does not mean for those living out their religious faith in society.

The Archbishops, following consultation with a number of other Christian leaders in England and Wales, restate the Church of England’s longstanding position on the blasphemy laws in their joint letter to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: “Having signalled for more than 20 years that the blasphemy laws could, in the right context, be abolished, the Church is not going to oppose abolition now, provided we can be assured that provisions are in place to afford the necessary protection to individuals and to society”. They also register ‘reservations’ about the method and timing of such a change and call on the Government to be clear as to precisely why the offences are being abolished.

The Archbishops point to four issues that highlight the need for caution before abolishing blasphemy laws. Firstly, it is still too early to be sure how the new offence of incitement to religious hatred will operate in practice. Secondly, the increased significance of issues touching on religious identity has underlined the importance of not lightly changing laws that carry a significant symbolic charge.

Thirdly, as recently as 5th December the High Court underlined the very high threshold that has to be passed for a prosecution to be brought. Fourthly, a number of those calling for the repeal of the offences misunderstand both what the existing law is intended to achieve, as clarified in the High Court decision as the preservation of society from civil strife, and the extent to which, in doing so, it protects particular religious beliefs.

In the letter, the Archbishops emphasise that: “Against that background we in the Church of England have serious reservations about the wisdom of legislating at this moment, and especially as part of a Bill introduced to deal with quite different matters, themselves of significant importance. In the light of the recent High Court decision, which should make it a good deal harder for prosecutions to be brought in all but the most compelling circumstances, it is not clear that there is a pressing need for repeal until there has been more time to assess the impact of the offence of incitement to religious hatred.”

They call on the Government to be clear as to precisely why the offences are being abolished and what the implications are for the position of the Christian religion - in relation to both the State and society more generally. “At a time of continuing debate about the nature of our society and its values, this change needs to be seen for what it is, namely the removal of what has long been recognised as unsatisfactory and not very workable offences in circumstances in which scurrilous attacks on the Christian religion no longer threaten the fabric of society. It should not be capable of interpretation as a secularising move, or as a general licence to attack or insult religious beliefs and believers.

“The place of Christianity in the constitutional framework of our country, governed as it is by the Queen, in Parliament, under God, is not in question in the current debate. The relationship between Church and State, reaffirmed by the Government last July in The Governance of Britain, will continue to provide a context in which people of all faiths and none can live together in mutual respect in this part of the Realm,” the Archbishops say.

7 Comments:

Anonymous nedsherry said...

The moderate blasphemy law stands in marked contrast to the proposal for a homophobic hatred offence which carries a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail. Gay rights groups want a homosexual blasphemy law.

An excellent point by His Grace: they want to replace a mild theistic religion with a militant secularist religion. However, His Grace should also consider the race blasphemy laws, already on the statute book and already carrying a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail. They have led directly to the gay blasphemy laws. To quote the Chief Rabbi:

Sacks said Britain's politics had been poisoned by the rise of identity politics, as minorities and aggrieved groups jockeyed first for rights, then for special treatment. The process, he said, began with Jews, before being taken up by blacks, women and gays. He said the effect had been inexorably divisive. "A culture of victimhood sets group against group, each claiming that its pain, injury, oppression, humiliation is greater than that of others," he said.

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/914939.html

5 March 2008 at 18:53  
Anonymous the last toryboy said...

The blasphemy law should go... as should the laws on homophobic hatred.

The problem with the Left and the religious strand of the Right is that both seek to control our lives. What parts they seek to control differ, but the thing in common is control.

The answer of course is to simply allow as much liberty as possible.

5 March 2008 at 20:27  
Blogger AethelBald, King of Wessex said...

I'm with Last Toryboy about the laws. Blasphemy? This is a secular society so get over yourselves. Gay? You're so boring. STFU.

I part company with him on exactly who it is that wants to control our lives. The Left and the Right both contain a good measure of insecure people who feel a need to control. The Tories have a greater tendency to pose as the party of individual liberty but only when the sun's out and there's a favorable breeze.

5 March 2008 at 20:55  
Anonymous the last toryboy said...

Well, the Tories have rather talked a good talk about liberty rather than actually acted on their talk - same of politicians everywhere.

But of the main parties they are the only one to even have a strand of thought in that direction.

5 March 2008 at 21:23  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

your grace
i ask the question what is the purpose of law??

it is interesting , it certainly shapes society , it certainly helps with simple oppressions based on ignorance.

now we are lead to believe that this making of equality via the demolishing of a principle which is thought to be ignorant is to be seen as freedom or enlightenment.

of course we now see the next stages of the no hatred ideology , secular liberalism is equal to christian authority.

we are now lead down the path of the publics low attachement to church aurthority , carefully nurtured by the deploying of liberal ideaology and culture . as being some sort of democratic proof positive, that christian values are backward and ignorant.

the successfull erosion of old thinking gives the right for the new to exist.

my views are supposed to be poison, i put the same charge on my opponenets.

it is interesting to contemplate what mr J Iscariot must have felt in his party of twelve rebels against the roman polythesist. we are in the dark as to what events turned his mind , we know he was offered thirty pices of silver. the moment is captured in john 13:27 "as soon as Judas took the bread satan entered into him"

the christ knew who would betray him , but Judas was ignorance until that moment.

to me it is a question of value , if the christ is the son of god ,then his outreach into the giving up on sin as being the truth must stand.

i fear that this legislation will affect my ability to represent that truth , what i believe to be a great work is to be substituted by lesser one that we are told is of equal value.

i often wonder if Judas in his desire for equality no douubt propped up by his wealth and position , having gained some knowledge saw the oppertunity of an equality with christ , he no longer wished to be bound by someone higher than himself , no need to feel lesser .

of course we also have to accept that judas was a stopping point on the road to the triumph of christ, indeed his downfall was necessary act of the story.

i suggest that serious though be now given to a third branch of the C of E , it is better to split and discuss rather than be forced into dis illusion.

I am sure that the christ will triumph , but it is very difficult to be slow to anger when confronted with laws that appear to lessen faith , rather than build.

slow to anger and trust is the lord it appears is all we have , unless we have an army of lawyers whom god has inspired to defeat evil .

5 March 2008 at 21:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The blasphemy law should go... as should the laws on homophobic hatred." Likewise, all this nonsense about offending muslims and the like.

It is a sign of a healthy democratic society when all viewpoints are tolerated, even if they are offensive to a majority/minority.

6 March 2008 at 02:13  
Anonymous hear o israel said...

dear anon 2:13
surely the sign of healthy democracy would be to have referendum on the lisbon treaty, or perhaps we are no longer living in a democracy??

6 March 2008 at 17:26  

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