The British Humanist Association (BHA) today urged MPs to vote for the abolition of the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel when it is considered by the Commons this week.
Hanne Stinson, BHA Chief Executive, said, ‘The abolition of the outdated blasphemy laws is long overdue. Those laws are supported neither by the public nor by the courts – as evidenced by the recent refusal by the High Court to allow a blasphemy case against the BBC Director-General to go ahead. The blasphemy laws in the UK – which protect only Anglican beliefs in any case – are clearly contrary to the principle of free speech, are probably contrary to human rights laws which protect freedom of expression, and are totally out-of-place in the context of our increasingly diverse and increasingly non-religious society.’
Defenders of the blasphemy laws often highlight the fact that they are not used in effect, but recent years have seen a number of attempts to invoke them. Comedian and BHA supporter Stewart Lee’s ‘Jerry Springer – The Opera’ was the subject of protests by religious campaigners against free speech which had a negative impact on the production and even went as far as court.
Mr Lee commented, ‘Britain is one of the most secular societies in the world where the right to free speech is protected by law, but even so there are many religious groups trying to censor people just because they don’t like what they’re saying. The archaic laws against blasphemy appear to give them legitimacy.’
Ms Stinson observed, ‘The very fact that attempts to prosecute using the blasphemy laws are going all the way to the High Court proves that those laws are not dead letters and that they continue to have the potential to negatively affect people’s lives. That we still have these laws is an outrage, but they could be abolished very quickly and easily, which is why we are delighted to see a proposed amendment in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which intends to do just that.’
The amendment to abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel has been tabled by Evan Harris MP to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill.
The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief. It is the largest organisation in the UK working for a secular state.
For further comment or information, please contact Naomi Phillips by email or 020 7079 3585 or Andrew Copson on 07855 380633.
Find more information about the BHA’s position on blasphemy at humanists.uk .