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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Will Christian Activist Finish Off Blasphemy Law?

The National Secular Society hopes that Christian evangelist Stephen Green will succeed in his bid to be given permission to mount his private blasphemy case against the BBC over Jerry Springer the Opera. If he does, we predict the blasphemy law will be found to be in conflict with the Human Rights Act. The second (and probably last) day of the hearing is today in the High Court.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society said: “We hope that leave for this case to proceed will be granted and if it does we predict that it will fail. If it does it would ironically make the Christian evangelist Stephen Green the person to hammer the final nail into the blasphemy law on which he is so keen but which the National Secular Society has been fighting to abolish for 140 years. It has resulted in jail terms sometimes, with hard labour, that have shortened the lives of brave secularist for publishing remarks or cartoons which today would be seen as trivial.

“But even if blasphemy is rendered obsolete as a result of Mr Green’s case against the BBC, the victory will be short-lived. On the back of the more recent cartoon debacles, pressure is mounting for the United Nations to outlaw religious thought crime under the new soubriquet of “defamation of religion”.

“There is also a more powerful law than blasphemy recently introduced into the UK. Religiously aggravated insulting behaviour carries a seven year maximum jail term and applies to all religions, not just Christianity as the blasphemy laws do. The prosecution threshold for this law is disturbingly low, given its draconian maximum tariff.

“The Society initiated of a demonstration outside St Martin’s in the Fields in 2005 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the last major blasphemy trial, brought by Mary Whitehouse against Gay News. It concerned a poem. Around twenty luminaries, including the recently deceased George Melly, read out the ‘offending’ poem – watched by the police, who took no action.

“The Society gave written evidence to, and was cross-examined by, the Religious Offences Committee of the House of Lords in 2003 which considered the blasphemy laws, among others. It concluded it likely to be unsustainable after the enactment of the Human Rights Act.”

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Our evidence

November 21 2007


Published Wed, 21 Nov 2007