Wednesday, March 01, 2006



Blasphemous Libel on National Radio

Linda Clark discussed blasphemous libel [audio] with lawyer Stephen Price on Nine to Noon this morning. It's a good discussion on the law, its origins, and its likely fate if it ever goes to court (Price likewise believes that, in the wake of the flag-burning case, a court would be forced to construe blasphemy pretty narrowly). But the best bit is at the beginning:

LC: Blasphemous Libel! Sounds like something out of the Ark

SP: It is something pretty much out of the Ark! I mean it was originally... designed to protect the state religion, back in the days where everybody was Christian, and anybody who wasn't deserved to be shot or beaten up and it was a genuine threat or it was perceived to be a genuine threat to society when people started challenging [the] Christian faith [or] suggesting that it might be inaccurate.

That pretty much captures the whole issue in a nutshell, and makes it clear why this archaic law must be repealed. State religion and laws to protect it belong in the dark ages, and have no place in a modern society which respects the freedom of religion.

Unfortunately, judging by the lack of response to my suggested repeal bill, our politicians are in no hurry to move into the modern era...

9 comments:

Actually can't believe this law is on the books - whatever happened to seperation of state and church.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/01/2006 05:27:00 PM

That's the point - it's a relic of a bygone era, and one we should long since have rid ourselves of.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/01/2006 08:28:00 PM

Do we have anything that specifies the separation of church and state in NZ? I know there is in the education act, but elsewhere?

Posted by muerk : 3/01/2006 11:57:00 PM

Just because an ancient law is on the books, doesn't mean a prosecution under it will actually occur, you know that. And look at the UK: you're legally supposed to be executed for committing adultery with the princess of wales, but all of Diana's exs have escaped axes.

Posted by M'Lud : 3/02/2006 12:34:00 AM

Muerk: we affirm the freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights Act 1990. That kindof precludes state religion or religious favourtism towards particular groups.

(Icehawk may want to talk about unwritten constitutional principles here as well...)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/02/2006 12:49:00 AM

M'Lud: the law of sedition seemed like a harmless historical anachronism as well - until someone decided to revive it to stifle protest over the foreshore and seabed.

There's also the fact that simply having the law on the books makes a statement about who we are, and marks us as an unequal society where one religious group - Christians - are uniquely privileged by having their beliefs protected from mockery in law. That is not a statement we should be making, or protection we should be granting. Quite apart from issues of religious discrimination, ideas that cannot defend themselves certainly don't deserve the protection of the state (and ideas that can don't need it).

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/02/2006 12:55:00 AM

Note that the law isn't even to protect state Christianity against other religions. It's to protect the official flavour of Christianity from the pernicious other flavours of Christianity.

Posted by The Gamester At Large : 3/02/2006 08:16:00 AM

M'Lud wrote:
Just because an ancient law is on the books, doesn't mean a prosecution under it will actually occur, you know that.

I reply:
Then that seems a splendid argument for getting rid of it. As Einstein once said, nothing is more destructive of respect for the rule of law, than laws that are unenforced - or unenforcable.

OTOH, am I the only person who finds it equally bizarre that our head of state (and his or her spouse) has to meet a religious qualification imposed by a foreign legislature three hundred years ago :- S/he must be a member in good standing of the Church of England not merely a Christian. That not only exludes the overwhelming majority of New Zealand citizens, but is a test it would illegal to impose on New Zealand's legislators, judiciary or civil servants.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 3/02/2006 08:51:00 AM

> Einstein once said, nothing is more destructive of respect for the rule of law, than laws that are unenforced - or unenforcable.

damn it - I thought I said that first.

Posted by Genius : 3/02/2006 09:34:00 PM