English blasphemy law

The Guardian today had an article suggesting the blasphemy law may be about to be repealed in England. This was based on a remark of David Blunkett’s in 2001, so it didn’t look like news, and when I looked again, it had left the front page and the religious slot had been taken by something on gay clergy.

The trouble with the blasphemy law is that it is outdated and the courts have refused to extend it to protect religions other than Christianity. Since they try not to use the law at all, this would be OK were it not for the fact that private prosecutions are permitted in Britain. Mary Whitehouse, who must have gone around with binoculars, was famous for prosecuting in cases of blasphemy and obscenity. And in blasphemy, the law supported her.

bq. The case to scrap the blasphemy laws received a boost in 1997 when the report from the Runnymede Trust’s commission on British Muslims which first studied the extent of Islamophobia recommended a new offence of incitement to religious hatred should be created rather than extending the blasphemy law to all religons.

More on blasphemy on the Wikipedia.

I blogged this after all because Delia Venables links to a new (October 1) site on religious law that looks promising, by (Liverpool) barrister Neil Addison. There’s a bit about the history of blasphemy laws in the USA – no prosecutions there since 1971. Neil also has a website on harassment law.

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