Thursday, February 23, 2006

South Park and blasphemous libel

In my post of the Mohammed cartoon controversy, I pointed out that if the cartoons had been about Jesus or mocked Christianity rather than Islam, anyone publishing them in New Zealand could have been prosecuted. Yes, we have a blasphemous libel law on the books, and while it doesn't call for decapitation, it does punish speech offensive to one particular religion: Christianity. And now Catholics want to use it against C4 for screening an episode of South Park:

Catholic Action's lawyer Greg King wrote to the Attorney-General to complain that it breached the Crimes Act by being blasphemous libel.

Mr King said the programme at worst amounted "to a hate crime" and urged the office of the Attorney-General to intervene.

Fortunately, prosecution requires the consent of the Attorney-General, and I can't imagine him giving it. Quite apart from questions of freedom of speech, the prosecution would almost certainly fail on BORA grounds, just as in the flag-burning case. But as long as this law is on the books, we will have to put up with Christians trying to use it to silence speech they disagree with on religious grounds. This is both an affront to our secular society and to its values of freedom and human rights. No religion should have a veto on freedom of speech. This law should be repealed.


There's some useful background on these geezers by Patrick Crewdson, here:


Posted by Russell Brown : 2/23/2006 04:18:00 PM

While I can understand that a law was once put on the books, it should be removed.

The sooner the better!

Posted by Anonymous : 2/23/2006 04:37:00 PM

Would IS or anyone care to expand on the idea that 'prosecution would fail on BORA grounds'?

I've had a read of the Act and I fail to see which section/s could be used to defeat a charge of blasphemous libel.

Philip Lyth

Posted by Anonymous : 2/23/2006 08:37:00 PM

As with the mohammad example I dare Catholic Action to get that legal action going and really throw some effort into it.

I expect it would be the fast tract to getting his organization alienated from mainstream society, getting the law repealed and assertng NZ even further as a country that values free speach.

Posted by Genius : 2/23/2006 09:16:00 PM

Ah yes, "Catholic Action," those three sad old men. I remember their emails and faxes, predicting all manner of doom for those who voted the 'wrong' way. Often followed swiftly by an email from Gordon Copeland, lately employed by the diocese of Wellington, advising MPs to ignore Kevin and his companions.

Philip Lyth

Posted by Anonymous : 2/23/2006 09:19:00 PM

Freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to "impart information and opinions of any kind in any form".

Of course, this is subject to such reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society, but I can't really see any justification in such a society for this sort of offence. The only justification advanced has been that of public order - but then people should be charged with a public order offence, not blasphemous libel.

I should also point out that the flag-burning case sets an obvious precedent for the law to be "read down" into oblivion.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/24/2006 12:00:00 AM

In any case, blasphemy prosecutions can only proceed with the permission of the Solicitor-General, who usually decides that free speech is paramount, as with the Te Papa Virgin in a Condom debacle back in '98.

Still, I agree, RS. It's moribund, and discriminatory. It needs to be repealed.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/24/2006 09:13:00 AM

Of course, the flag-burning charge against Mr Hopkinson also required the A-G's consent, and that was forthcoming.

Recall too that that prosecution succeeded, only to be overturned on appeal; further the broad-ranging BORA ground advanced at the District Court was not advanced on appeal and the successful ground upon which the appeal turned wouldn't apply in a blasphemous libel prosecution (and I can't see really see an analagous one).

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 2/24/2006 10:36:00 AM

I went to see the "Virigin in the Condom" statue at the time, It was a great little piece of art.

Posted by Hans Versluys : 2/24/2006 12:26:00 PM