Tuesday, 4 March 2008

UK blasphemy law reform

Updated again Friday morning

The two archbishops have issued this statement on the current government consultation, which includes the full text of their response to the government: Archbishops’ response to Government consultation on blasphemy.

News reports on this response:

The Times 29 Feb Archbishops have ‘serious reservations’ about blasphemy repeal by Ruth Gledhill

Guardian 4 March Archbishops question timing of plans to abolish blasphemy laws by Alan Travis

Update Also, there is an audio file of a discussion between Alan Travis and Giles Fraser available here.

In connection with this, there are also these reports:

The Times ‘Most Britons belong to no religion’ by Ruth Gledhill

Religious Intelligence UK warned over religious rights by George Conger

The UN report mentioned can be found as a PDF here.

Friday morning update

The Church Times has a full report on the debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday, see Archbishops warn of symbolic charge of blasphemy law by Pat Ashworth and Simon Caldwell.

The official record of the debate is here, or you can read it in a PDF file here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 8:56am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

The Archbishops should welcome the abolition as the occasion for a generous apology for the centuries in which the Church failed to recognize the right of religious freedom.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 10:34am GMT

I think there are no possible justifications for keeping a blasphemy law.

Religious opinion should not be protected although people should not be persecuted because of their religion.

The law should be secular.

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 10:47am GMT

I am amazed to hear that a blasphemy case was brought in Britain three months ago. The name of Rushdie comes into my mind.

"Thirdly, as recently as 5th December the High Court underlined the very high threshold that has to be passed for a prosecution to be brought."

This reminds me of the Irish Government's half-hearted defence of the anti-gay laws left hanging over from Queen Victoria's time -- "they are never applied in practice". It turned out that the laws had in reality a heavy practical bearing, in marriage cases, which had sometimes to be stopped when something in the husband's testimony made it possible that the Director of Public Prosecutions would instigate a prosecution.

From the perspective of current Catholic thought, which recognizes the right of religious freedom, it can be argued that blasphemy laws are objectively sinful, in that they were based on non-recognition of that right (apart altogether from the right to freedom of expression).

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 10:53am GMT

Good grief -- it is times like this that one is tempted to suggest that the C of E should not only be disestablished, but abolished (or at least it's primates ignored).

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Tuesday, 4 March 2008 at 2:25pm GMT

I tend to believe that the very definition of a "civilized society" is one in which blasphemy goes unpunished.

Posted by: Dirty Davey on Saturday, 8 March 2008 at 12:36am GMT

In a world whose *main* features are vastness and intricacy (and therefore awesomeness), it follows that the worst possible mistake is hubris and/or lack of awe. If that is not a sin or a crime, then nothing is. If that is not according to conventional patterns of western thought, that is irrelevant. We are asking what is rationally true, not what is conventional or local. We already know what is conventional and local.

There are plenty of occasions where blasphemy is done quite gratuitously, a bit like adolescent rebellion, with the aim of laughing at the fuddy duddies. (OK, you've laughed at the fuddy duddies. Big deal. What has been gained? Is it a sort of adolescent Oedipus complex? If so, it is psychological/emotional rather than rational, and therefore deserves no serious consideration.) The perpetrators have no intention of gaining accurate information on their subject matter, and cynicism is their default mode (which is self-defeating, since if one is cynical about everything one may as well be cynical about nothing).

I think Bp Wright was incorrect to characterise the central issue as whether God can defend himself. I have no doubt that He can - but how is that the point? The point is that it is a bit dumb to rubber stamp adolescent rebelliousness and (simultaneously) officially silence the idea that those who point out that non-rational adolescent rebelliousness is all it is have intellectually the better of their 'opponents'.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 8 March 2008 at 1:28pm GMT

Christopher:

In a secular society, the government has no business criminalizing blasphemy. The question will always be "whose blasphemy?" A Jew will tell you the Holy Trinity is a blasphemy. A Muslim will tell you that any insult to Mohammed is a blasphemy.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 8 March 2008 at 5:09pm GMT

"The point is that it is a bit dumb to rubber stamp adolescent rebelliousness and (simultaneously) officially silence the idea that those who point out that non-rational adolescent rebelliousness is all it is have intellectually the better of their 'opponents'."

Legislating morality is a perilous business. If I defend someone's right to freedom of opinion and freedom of speech, in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this does not mean I am rubber-stamping everything that person thinks or says. Nor does it make me look intellectually inferior to him -- on the contrary such respect for human rights is a mark of moral and intellectual maturity. Or at least that is what the UN thought we had learned from the excesses of thought-control in Communist and Fascist countries.

Posted by: Spirit of Vatican II on Monday, 10 March 2008 at 12:11pm GMT

Hi Pat-

there are two glaring questions arising form your comment, namely:

(1) What Christian wants this to remain such a secular society as it is? It has in time past been more Christian and less secular. Christians would by definition not approve its having become less christian and more secular.

(2) I never denied the point you raise. My point was a general one about blasphemy being committed sometimes gratuitously by overgrown- adolescent 'ooh aren't I naughty?' types. It is not right (though it figures, given the types who now dominate our public life and media) for the law to affirm them while simultaneously discriminating against more mature people.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 10 March 2008 at 1:07pm GMT

Christopher:

Point 1: The greatest protection any Christian has for his own religious point of view is a secular society. The question will always be "whose kind of Christianity?" Would you like the Roman Catholics enforcing their views? Or--to go in a completely different direction--the Quakers? (Not that I can imagine any Quaker supporting governmental enforcement of religious conformity.)

Point 2: In what way does the government "discriminate" against more "mature" people by not prosecuting the "adolescents" for their potentially blasphemous statements?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Monday, 10 March 2008 at 7:50pm GMT

Hi Pat-

Isn't it clear that non-discrimination against A is added discrimination against B. If you make A's habitat cosier, you make B's less cosy. There is no neutral ground, and no situation that will make all happy.

Because it is not primarily about everyone being 'happy' even if that were possible. It is about doing what is in the longterm interests of everyone.

My gripe is with secularist monopoly - like all monopolies this runs the danger of becoming an abuse of power. And - hang it all - secularism's record on some matters is statistically so bad that no person of conviction could supply reasoned evidence to support its application across the board. On the other hand, if the prevailing monopoly was 'convictionist', ie everybody being free to follow their reasoned convictions (not their wants and individual wishes but their convictions), then that would be a good healthy start.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 12:31pm GMT

"Isn't it clear that non-discrimination against A is added discrimination against B. If you make A's habitat cosier, you make B's less cosy. There is no neutral ground, and no situation that will make all happy."

No, it isn't clear. This is the argument that American would-be censors make all the time and it's nonsense. The permission for those who wish to speak blasphemously does no harm to those who see that speech as blasphemous. If they are offended, there is an easy solution--stop listening. Turn off the TV, change the channel, leave the theater, whatever.

"...if the prevailing monopoly was 'convictionist', ie everybody being free to follow their reasoned convictions (not their wants and individual wishes but their convictions), then that would be a good healthy start."

And what if MY "conviction" calls for the banning of your conviction?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 11 March 2008 at 8:22pm GMT

Hi Pat-

How does my using the off-switch or leaving the theatre affect the fact that my habitat is being changed by certain things being normalised? If you check my comment you will see that I wasn't talking about individuals but about habitats: the kind of society we inhabit and cannot avoid. We want it to be the best possible environment for our children - and indeed ourselves and our fellow human beings. People who want (why, exactly?) to increase blaspheny are not just altering their own environment, they are selfishly alstering everyone else's environment, Why then are you on their side? As a Christian you'd be on the side of those who seek to extend the gospel not those who seek to extend blasphemy. Dare I call that a 'no-brainer'? :o)

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 12 March 2008 at 12:32pm GMT

Christopher:

Then what you want is, indeed, a theocracy--a government that is concerned with the morals and religion of every individual. A government that declares some speech to be religiously offensive and therefore out of bounds. Once you accept that, you must ask the question--which religions? As I've noted, any Jew would consider discussion of the Holy Trinity to be blasphemy. Any Muslim would consider denigration of the prophet Mohammed to be blasphemy. (Actually, in Muslim terms, the mere mention of Mohammed without appropriate additions such as "peace be to him" might be blasphemous.)

Everytime I take down a tree, I am "selfishly altering everyone else's environment." Shall we stop taking down trees? Hell, every time I take a breath I'm altering the environment. Shall I stop breathing?

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 13 March 2008 at 2:06am GMT

This is precisely why the law exists: to prevent harm. The normalisation of (often) uninformed adolescent hubris produces a sum total of more harm than good. If we want more harm than good, we keep it legal. If we want more good than harm, we don't. Who wants more harm than good?

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 15 March 2008 at 12:43pm GMT

"This is precisely why the law exists: to prevent harm. The normalisation of (often) uninformed adolescent hubris produces a sum total of more harm than good."

To whom and to what? The sensibilities of a bunch of blue-noses? OTOH, criminalization of speech (any speech) invariably harms the public discussion of issues.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Saturday, 15 March 2008 at 4:16pm GMT
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