Is The Blasphemy Law Going To Be Extended?

Home Secretary Charles Clarke intimated that the Government might yet extend the blasphemy law to cover all religions, rather than abolish it, as had been implied if the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill got through Parliament.

Speaking at a conference organised by the IPPR and the New Humanist this week, Mr Clarke’s statement set alarm bells ringing among secularists who are afraid that pressure from Islamist groups may push the government into beefing up and reviving the medieval blasphemy laws.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “Any move to make the blasphemy law applicable to all religions would be fiercely resisted, just as the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill was. But this Government is still desperately trying to regain the support of the Muslim community after the catastrophic Iraq debacle. It will need their votes in key Labour constituencies in coming elections, and extending the blasphemy law to cover minority religions would be one way to do it. The problem is that the Government is still labouring under the impression that all Muslims in this country are represented by conservative theocratic spokespeople. There are, though, a large number of Muslims who don’t take their lead from reactionary imams, and their voices are never heard by policy makers.”

Mr Clarke made clear at the conference that although he has no religious faith himself, he fully backs the Government’s engagement with and privileging of religious organisations. Although he came out strongly against the teaching of creationism, he strongly supported the expansion of ‘faith schools’ and defended the Government’s intention to bring religious groups into the provision of welfare services.

Meanwhile, Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul told a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Austria last week that blasphemy laws in every country should be extended to cover Islam. He said that Muslims viewed European laws protecting the Christian religion and banning anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial as a double standard. He told delegates: “I would like to call on you to start a process of re-examination of your legislation to ensure these restraints apply to all religions equally.” British Muslims were said to be reassured that Chancellor Gordon Brown has said he wants to create “a level playing field” in the British economy for sharia-compliant financial products. To use financial services, Muslims are supposed to avoid interest.