Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Scrapping blasphemy

Ireland's investigation of Stephen Fry for blasphemy has had at least one positive result: it has drawn attention to our own archaic blasphemy law, and resulted in politicians calling for it to be scrapped:

New Zealand still has an anti-blasphemy law, though neither the prime minister nor the Anglican archbishop was aware of the fact.

The law – which appears not to have been used since 1922 – came to light after reports British entertainer Stephen Fry faced police investigation in the Republic of Ireland for comments he made about "a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God".

New Zealand has laws covering crimes against religion, morality, and public welfare. And blasphemous libel – though vaguely defined – remains an offence punishable by up to 12 months' jail.

Now a range of people, including Prime Minister Bill English and Anglican Archbishop and Primate Philip Richardson, say it's time to get rid of the arbitrary and archaic law.

English said on Monday that he did not previously know the blasphemy laws existed, but "we could get rid of them".

Good. David Seymour will be trying to introduce a bill by leave at the start of Member's Day tomorrow, and I'd encourage all MPs to support it (or rather, not oppose it, because that's how leave works). Otherwise, it would be nice of National to replace one of its spam bills - bills enacting minor government policies - with something substantive and useful like this.

While this law is largely forgotten, it is still a threat. It crops up every decade or so when some domineering christian objects to a TV show or piece of art (in the only case to come to trial, in 1922, it was a poem). And as a law on our books, its effectively a statement about what sort of country we are. The message it sends is one of bigotry, intolerance, and fanaticism. If we want to change that message, we must repeal it.