Blasphemy law likely to be repealed

The blasphemy law, not used for almost a hundred years, will be repealed if legislation introduced to Parliament this week passes, whci seems likely.

RNZ: Outdated blasphemy law to be repealed

Justice Minister Andrew Little introduced legislation on Monday to repeal the decades-old law.

Blasphemous libel is listed in the Crimes Act and comes with a punishment of up to a year in prison but has not been prosecuted since 1922 – and even then was unsuccessful.

Labour sought to repeal the law when in opposition last year, but National blocked its attempt, saying the public should first have a say.

Speaking for the Government Paul Foster Bell opposed the idea that “any form of thought or crime of thought, or of speech or of conscience, should remain part of our criminal code on an ongoing basis” but said that a repeal of blasphemous libel had not been in the bill at the stage where submissions were invited from the public, and because it might be controversial it should not be included at that stage.

The public will get a chance to have a say via submission in the select committee stage of the bill, which should be later this year.

Former prime minister Bill English – a practising Catholic – last year said the law was outdated and should be repealed.

The comments were echoed by the bishops of the New Zealand Anglican Church who said God did not need to be defended by a statute.

There may not be much opposition then.

From the Crimes Act 1961:

Part 7

Crimes against religion, morality, and public welfare

Crime against religion

123 Blasphemous libel

(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year who publishes any blasphemous libel.

(2) Whether any particular published matter is or is not a blasphemous libel is a question of fact.

(3) It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.

(4) No one shall be prosecuted for an offence against this section without the leave of the Attorney-General, who before giving leave may make such inquiries as he or she thinks fit.

Blasphemy Law in New Zealand

From 1840 until 1893 the English Common Law Charges of blasphemy and blasphemous libel applied in New Zealand. After 1893 the Common Law charges were replaced by a charge of blasphemous libel under the Criminal Code Act 1893, and then from 1908 by the same charge under the Crimes Acts of 1908 and 1961.

An Outline of Blasphemy Law

In the distant past, blasphemy laws were introduced to protect monopolistic religions from all dissent, to prevent apostasy, to maximise the number of believers, and to maximise the income of a religious group and its priests or clerics. Blasphemy was punished variously with death by stoning, burning at the stake, hanging or beheading, lashing, piercing of the tongue and other barbaric and inhumane punishments.

Now, blasphemy laws are largely restricted to Islamic countries. Over 125 non-Islamic countries have no blasphemy laws at all. Such laws are out of place in a modern secular and multicultural society. New Zealand is now one of a very small number of western countries with an archaic, medieval, and anachronistic law against blasphemous libel and an even smaller minority with a prison sentence for this dubious offence.

Wikipedia: Blasphemous libel

Blasphemous libel was originally an offence under the common law of England. Today, it is an offence under the common law of Northern Ireland, it is a statutory offence in Canada and New Zealand, and it has been abolished in England and Wales.

It consists of the publication of material which exposes the Christian religion to scurrility, vilification, ridicule, and contempt, and the material must have the tendency to shock and outrage the feelings of Christians. It is a form of criminal libel.

That isn’t specified in our legislation but I suppose a definition something like that would apply.

It is still illegal at the moment, so please no blasphemous libel in comments.

But you can express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.

Previous Post

7 Comments

  1. Ray

     /  March 21, 2018

    A Twitter comment yesterday summed this up best
    “Does Labour have anything important and relevant to focus on right now? Like getting tens of thousands of homeless out of cars and garages into warm dry accommodation before winter?”

    • Because one thing being really important means that nothing else is important and they can only work on one thing at a time???

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 21, 2018

    If they want to repeal bad law they have plenty of targets. An entire term could be devoted just to that.

    • Zedd

       /  March 21, 2018

      yes.. cannabis prohibition, is definitley past its useby date !

  3. Gezza

     /  March 21, 2018

    Good to see it go. Then I can criticise religion AND Sir Alan.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  March 21, 2018

      On that basis I thought it had already gone, Sir Gerald.

  1. Blasphemy law likely to be repealed — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition