Repeal of blasphemy law
Sir - In the light of the widespread outrage at the conviction of the British teacher for blasphemy in
over the name of a teddy bear is it not time to repeal our own blasphemy law?
The ancient common law of blasphemous libel purports to protect beliefs rather than people or communities. Most religious commentators are of the view that the Almighty does not need the "protection" of such a law.
We are representatives of religious, secular, legal and artistic opinion in this country and share the view that the blasphemy offence serves no useful purpose. Yet it allows partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters or intimidate small theatres, print media or publishers.
Far from protecting public order - for which other laws are more suited - it damages social cohesion.
It is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets and thus engenders an expectation among other religions that their sensibilities should also be protected by the criminal law (as with the attempt to charge Salman Rushdie) and a sense of grievance among minority religions that they do not benefit from their own version of such a law.
As the Law Commission acknowledged in 1985, when it recommended repeal, it is uncertain in scope, but lack of intention is no defence, and the law is unlimited in penalty.
This, together with its chilling effect on free expression and its discriminatory impact, leaves it in clear breach of human rights law. In the end, no one is likely to be convicted under it.
The Church of England no longer opposes its abolition on principle and the Government has given no principled reason to defend its retention.
We call on MPs to support the amendment proposed by Evan Harris, Frank Dobson and David Wilshire tomorrow to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and on the Government - which rightly criticises countries like
for their blasphemy laws - to give it a fair wind.
Philip Pullman, Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Ricky Gervais, Nicholas Hytner, Shami Chakrabarti, Professor Richard Dawkins, Rt Rev Lord Carey of Clifton, Professor A.C. Grayling, Sir Jonathan Miller, David Starkey, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Stewart Lee, Michael Cashman, Joan Smith, Lady D’Souza, Peter Tatchell, Lisa Appignanesi, Hanif Kureishi, Lord Desai, Roger Smith and Hari Kunzru
Brief description of signatories:
Philip Pullman, campaigning atheist (Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society) (read fellow HA of NSS Peter Hitchen’s Spectator article on
vs C S Lewis from 2003: http://www.lewrockwell.com/spectator/spec11.html )
Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth, former pro-gay, pro-divorce Bishop of
Ricky Gervais, comedian and campaigning atheist
Nicholas Hytner, stage director likes to think his productions challenge Christian belief
Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, now emerging as a campaigning atheist
Professor Richard Dawkins, campaigning atheist (HA of NSS)
Rt Rev Lord Carey of Clifton, former Archbishop of
(surely shome mishtake).
Professor A.C. Grayling, philosopher and campaigning atheist (HA of NSS)
Sir Jonathan Miller, stage director and campaigning atheist (HA of NSS)
David Starkey, broadcaster and campaigning atheist (HA of NSS)
Lord Lester of Herne Hill, campaigning atheist
Stewart Lee, author and campaigning atheist
Michael Cashman, homosexual activist and campaigning atheist (HA of NSS)
Joan Smith, writer and campaigning atheist (HA of NSS)
Baroness D’Souza, campaigner for gay rights and director of ‘International Centre against Censorship’
homosexual activist, contributor to paedophile book ‘Betrayal of Youth’
Lisa Appignanesi, writer and campaigning atheist
Hanif Kureishi, writer and campaigning atheist
Lord Desai, campaigning atheist (HA of NSS)
Roger Smith, who's he?
and Hari Kunzru, fashionable young writer.