Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from the Centre for Justice and Liberty

  Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your Committee before the end of July. After research, we support retaining the blasphemy law and profoundly disagree with, and do not see the need for, an incitement to religious hatred law.

  The Centre represents the UK Christian broadcast industry, (music, production, communication companies, radio and TV broadcasters), employing about 1,000 people, with a £20-30 million annual turnover contribution to the country. Your proposals could adversely affect those who work in our industry.


  Col. 302 of 23/07/78 House of Lords report defined blasphemy as "any writing about God or Christ or Christian religion, or some sacred subject in words which are so scurrilous or abusive or offensive that if they are published they would tend to vilify the Christian religion and lead to a breach of the peace".

  This has worked, is working and will continue to work in a multi-cultural society. As well as protecting Church and its leaders, the words already protect the name of God, religion and religious leaders throughout the United Kingdom. We hope their Lordships will conclude that this law is sufficiently broad already for there to be no need to change, modify or remove it. References to Christ and the Church also recognise centuries of UK Christian heritage and tradition.

  We agree with Baroness Ryder of Warsaw: "It is not blasphemous to speak or publish opinions hostile to the Christian faith or to deny the existence of God if the publication is couched in decent or temperate language" (Lords 22/02/95 col. 1229)—and with Lord Elton referring to: "a general perception of the sanctity of God and the necessity of all mankind to recognise that" (ibid col. 1229)—and with Lord Scarman that the blasphemy law "belongs to a group of criminal offences designed to safeguard the internal tranquillity of the Kingdom" (ibid 1222).

Surely, we should keep this law to respect religion and UK religious leaders

  We agree with the Archbishop of York: "The way these matters work now means that the protection afforded to one faith—a faith that is after all the faith of the established church and a faith adhered to with varying degrees of enthusiasm by between 60 and 80 per cent of the population—provides a sort of umbrella from which others can benefit; not directly through the law, but through the presumption against blasphemy which the existence of this ancient legislation still retains within our legal system". (Lords 16/06/94 col. 1895).

  We also support retaining associated laws of "distinct offence of disturbing a religious service or religious devotions", and "religious offence of striking a person in a church or churchyard"—issues raised by Lord Avebury. We support the protection of churches, religious buildings, cemeteries and burial grounds.

Surely, we should keep a law, respecting all premises that are used for marriages, funerals and the graves of the dead


  All faiths need to be able to share what they believe. There is at present freedom of speech, which does not blaspheme and it is already covered by the blasphemy law. We oppose introducing more laws that look for incitement or for offence and believe this is unnecessary.

  We do not want further legislation that could be used to discriminate against Christian and other religious views in the media. But, we do support the blasphemy law that keeps us from causing offence to other religions, whilst providing a measure of protection against militants who are offensive about matters of faith and towards any religious people.

  The modern reality is that people of faith including Christians and Jews are experiencing an increasing tendancy to be targeted by militant individuals who are not just irreligious, but anti-religious. We ourselves were banned from broadcast licences and are taking the Government to the European Court of Human Rights under Article 14 Prohibition of Discrimination, Article 9 Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, Article 10 Freedom of Expression.

  We are convinced that implementation of existing European Convention protections is the solution, rather than another law: "incitement to religious hatred" which will be even more problematic and not benefit anybody, except law firms and those who hold shares in law firms.

  We think it will harm freedom of speech, with the potential to criminalise religious debate. The judicial system should not be drawn into adjudicating on people's beliefs. Militant secular and anti-religious people could well try to use the law to target people, simply because of their religious affiliation.

  We suggest "incitement to terrorism" or "incitement to crime" are criminal actions, rather than thoughts. Yet, protection already exists, it is a criminal offence to incite any crime against another person, whether or not religion is the reason.

14 July 2002

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