Submission from the Vicar of St Peter's,
I wish to make the following submission to the
House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences.
1. The Current Blasphemy Law applies only
to blasphemy against the doctrines of the Church of England likely
to incite a breach of the peace. In a multi-faith, and a highly
secularised society, such a law can only be used mischievously,
and I would suggest that it should be repealed. This in no way
damages the established nature of the Church of England.
2. I do not believe that the current blasphemy
law should be replaced with a law concerned with religious offences
and I do so for the following reasons:
(a) how do you define what is religion? Obviously
the mainstream faiths need to be included, but anyone can set
up a religion and some religions are definitely not recognised
by the Charity Commission, eg Scientology.
(b) most religions contain within them, sects
which disagree among themselves, and sometimes one sect will claim
itself to be the true faith and the other sects within the one
religion to be false. Any blasphemy law would quickly find itself
bogged down in this quagmire;
(c) all religions claim some faith in some
god and these gods are not necessarily equally sensitive to blasphemy.
However, some are extremely sensitive and Islam would be included
among them. Any law against religious offences would rapidly become
socially divisive and seriously threaten the Queen's Peace. The
scope for religious and for social unrest would increase the racial
and cultural tensions of this country;
(d) the recent case under the Blasphemy Law,
Regina v Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate ex parte
Choudhury indicates quite clearly that the principle under English
law of proving intention, would come under serious pressure, if
when the subjective emotional response of those alleged to have
been offended by a remark, would claim to be more important than
the intention. The emotional pressure on the Courts to undermine
this basic principle of English justice could result in disappointment,
verdicts being handed down which either undermined the principle
of intention, or rejected the subjective response as an adequate
basis for bringing a blasphemy charge.
20 June 2002