Christian think-tank backs repeal of UK blasphemy laws

The Christian think tank Ekklesia has renewed its call for the repeal of the UK's archaic blasphemy laws, last made in November 2007 in the wake of an attempt by an individual to seek judicial review in the High Court for an attempted private prosecution against the BBC for broadcasting 'Jerry Springer - The Opera'.

An amendment to abolish the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel has been tabled by Evan Harris MP to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill this week (7 January 2008), and the issue is drawing support from people of all faiths and none.

Blasphemous libel claims can still be brought against the publication of any matter that insults, offends, or vilifies Christ or the Christian (principally Anglican) religion - whether the publication intended to be blasphemous or not.

"Human rights advocates, including people of faith, have quite rightly campaigned against blasphemy laws in Pakistan and other countries, and having them on the statute in the UK is both an offence and an anachronism", said Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

He adds: "Privileging one religion above other views is indefensible in a democracy, and for Christians there is the added irony that Christ was himself arraigned on a charge of blasphemy. Using the law to attack opinions about belief is to misuse it, and suggesting that God needs protection against free speech makes no theological sense at all."

"The Christian message is about the power of self- giving love, not the love of one's own power. This is why it is wrong religiously as well as legally and democratically", says Barrow.

Others who have spoken out against blasphemy laws include the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, a noted religious conservative, responding to comments by Ekklesia co-director Jonathan Bartley on BBC1's Sunday morning current affairs and religion programme, 'The Big Questions' last year (25/11/07).

NOTES:

Ekklesia also shares the view of leading civil rights group Liberty that the offence of blasphemy violates Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protecting free speech.

The campaign argues that it should also be decriminalised in English law because of its lack of legal certainty, as the Irish Supreme Court in Corway versus Independent Newspapers held in 2000 demonstrated.