This Wednesday Dr Evan Harris MP will propose an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill that abolishes the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel. It’s about time.
Right now, if Blue Peter named their teddy bear Jesus, Gethin Jones could get sent to prison. Muhammed? Free speech. Buddah? Bulletproof. But Jesus gets special treatment, as the blasphemy laws cover Christian belief only. Isn’t this alone reason enough for a repeal?
There’s a danger that we might head the other way at some point. Rather than repeal the law, why not add cover for Islam? And, while we’re at it, jews and hindus would like their religion protected too. Oooh, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Scientologists would also like a piece of the action, please, and they have an army of lawyers to ensure it happens. This clearly wouldn’t work. Isn’t a level playing field the only practical, as well as moral, solution?
This is no secular attack on religion. The legal system works on the basis of individual rights, yet this law protects opinions, not people. A law forbidding criticism of atheism would be just as stupid. If anybody doesn’t like what we see on television, they get to say so without fear of being locked up. This is simply the decent way to behave.
It’s true that there hasn’t been a blasphemy prosecution in a long time. But it’s a law, and not something that should be taken lightly. Christian Voice tried to attack the BBC using the blasphemy law. The BBC fought back, but small theatres, publishers and media outlets don’t have this luxury. It’s reasonable to be intimidated when the law says you’re not allowed to criticise certain beliefs.
It’s archaic and ridiculous, and no part of a modern democracy. The Law Commission recommended its repeal back in 1985, and even the Church of England no longer opposes its abolition. Let’s ditch it.
I’ve written to my MP. It’s easy to do, just go to http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp and enter your postcode – you’ll be sent to a page where you can directly email your representative in parliament. Only takes two minutes – so why not?