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Abolish the Blasphemy Laws

Today, Evan Harris, Frank Dobson and David Wilshire will table an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to abolish the common law offence of blasphemy.

Here is a letter in the Telegraph, signed by the great and the good (including the last Archbish of Cant, Lord Carey).

You can email your MP here.

Here is my letter to my MP:

This Wednesday, 9 January, Dr Evan Harris is going to table an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill to abolish the common law criminal offence of blasphemy.

The offence is a dead letter. There has not been a successful prosecution under it, since Mary Whitehouse brought a private action against a poet. It has nevertheless been used, surprisingly recently, by the BBFC to require cuts to a film which contained references to Christian themes.

The Blasphemy law protects only the sentiments of Christians, to the extent that their views co-incide with the loose tenets of Anglicanism, and nobody else.

There is now, no case for its extension. There is already a statutory offence of incitement to religious hatred, which – unlike the offence of Blasphemy – does not distinguish between any particular sect, denomination, or religion.

It is also strongly arguable that a future prosecution would fail, as the offence conflicts with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, enshrined in British law by the Human Rights Act 1998. This is not, however, an argument for inaction. Even the spectre of a law has a chilling effect on speech.

Please support Dr Evan Harris MP’s amendment this Wednesday.

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