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Press Release: Christians in battle over Blasphemy Law this week

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Issued on behalf of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship/Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON)

Press Release

For Immediate Release

3 March 2008


THIS WEEK sees a major battle between the Church and Government over proposals to change the Blasphemy Laws.

An amendment to abolish the Blasphemy law was put forward by Evan Harris MP in the House of Commons on the 9 January 2008 but this was withdrawn. This withdrawal was on the basis that the Government would consult with the Church of England and look at this again in the House of Commons.

Amendments to abolish blasphemy are likely to be considered today or on the 5th of March in the House of Lords. In their response to the Government consultation on Blasphemy the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have indicated that the Church of England has serious reservations about the wisdom of legislating at this moment and it is not clear that there is a pressing need for repeal until there has been more time to assess the impact of the offence of incitement to religious hatred.

Andrea Minichiello Williams of the Lawyers Christian Fellowship, which submitted evidence on the issue of Blasphemy to the Government, said: “The rationale of the law of blasphemy/blasphemous libel is that these are public offences which damage society by undermining the highest British values, and the UK constitution, including the monarchy and our legal system.

“The offence has such a high threshold that it does not restrict freedom of speech, and UK law is fully compatible with our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. It is doing no harm.

“Abolition of the offence would support a secular agenda which seeks to remove the Christian heritage from our laws and constitution. While there may be a need for a debate about the basis of our constitution, this is not the occasion for it.”

In a submission by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Church of England makes clear its affirmation of the central place of Christianity in British public life and calls on the government to explain precisely what the removal  of the blasphemy laws does and does not mean for those living out their religious faith in society.

The Archbishops point to four issues that highlight the need for caution before abolishing blasphemy laws. Firstly, it is still too early to be sure how the new offence of incitement to religious hatred will operate in practice. Secondly, the increased significance of issues touching on religious identity has underlined the importance of not lightly changing

laws that carry a significant symbolic charge.

Thirdly, as recently as 5th December the High Court underlined the very high threshold that has to be passed for a prosecution to be brought. Fourthly, a number of those calling for the repeal of the offences misunderstand both what the existing law is intended to achieve, as clarified in the High Court decision as the preservation of society from civil strife, and the extent to which, in doing so, it protects particular religious beliefs.

In the letter, the Archbishops emphasise that: "Against that background we in the Church of England have serious reservations about the wisdom of legislating at this moment, and especially as part of a Bill introduced to deal with quite different matters, themselves of significant importance.  In the light of the recent High Court decision, which should make it a good deal harder for prosecutions to be brought in all but the most compelling circumstances, it is not clear that there is a pressing need for repeal until there has been more time to assess the impact of the offence of incitement to religious hatred."

The debate comes in the same week the High Court refused to hear the appeal in the case of Stephen Green v The City of Westminster Magistrates Court (Jerry Springer the Opera), as it was not felt by the House to raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the House at this time.

Mr Green, Director of Christian Voice, sought to bring a private prosecution against the producer and the broadcaster of 'Jerry Springer - The Opera', arguing that the depiction of God as a frail old man and Christ as an abusive and foul mouthed homosexual amounted to blasphemy and that the production and broadcasting of the play was therefore a criminal offence. The District Judge at the Magistrates Court refused to find that blasphemy had occurred. Mr Green applied for Judicial Review of this decision and in November 2007, the case was heard at the High Court. Once again, the case was dismissed. The reasons given for dismissal included the lack of any evidence that the production had endangered society as a whole by endangering the peace or depraving public morality. The judgment also said that the production attacked the Jerry Springer chat show genre rather than Christianity.

In a linked case, a Christian lady is challenging Northumbria police over their failure to investigate a statue of Jesus with an erection which was part of an exhibition displayed at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in January. Although the Baltic Centre admitted that they had several complaints about the work, they maintained that the exhibition was clearly marked as being potentially offensive and that visitors were given proper warnings about the images and sculptures on display. The Christian has sent several letters to the police asking them to investigate whether an offence has been committed, asserting that the statue of Jesus is blasphemous and offensive under public order legislation. She awaits a response. Her case has been taken up by the Christian Legal Centre.


For further information:

Andrea Minichiello-Wiliams: 0771 259 1164; Paul Eddy (PR) 07958 905716.

Paul Eddy, FRSA, MCIoJ,

Kavanagh House

38 Farm Road, Nottingham


Tel: 07958 905716


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