Wednesday, July 09, 2008

UK abolishes blasphemy

It's done. About an hour ago, s79 of the UK's Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 came into force, abolishing the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel and ending 550 years of Christian oppression in the UK. Which means it is now entirely legal in the UK to quote from James Kirkup's Love that Dares to Speak its Name:

As they took him from the cross
I, the centurion, took him in my arms-
the tough lean body
of a man no longer young,
beardless, breathless,
but well hung.
Yes, someone almost went to jail for that back in 1977 (they were fined and given a suspended sentence), and it has resulted in repeated legal harassment ever since. Which all goes to show that it was a petty law for petty minds who could tolerate no dissent from their narrow views. The UK is well rid of it.

Meanwhile, back home in NZ, the NZ Association of Rationalists and Humanists asks the obvious question: isn't it time we followed suit?

While we pretend to have religious freedom, blasphemous libel is still a crime under New Zealand law. While the law has only been used once, there have been repeated attempts by Christians in recent years to use it against material which offends their sensibilities, and there is no guarantee that one of these attempts will not be successful (particularly in light of their recent subversion of the chief censor to ban a T-shirt (scroll down) on the basis that it is "blasphemous" and "denigrates Mary, the mother of Jesus" - reasons that are blatantly unlawful and form no part of censorship law in New Zealand).

As the dispute over the infamous Danish cartoons shows, we would not tolerate for an instant the thought that we could go to jail for offending the religious beliefs of Muslims. So why do we have a law which allows exactly that for offending Christians?

As long as this law is on the books, we do not have religious freedom in New Zealand. It has no place in a modern, secular liberal democracy, and it is high time we did away with it.