The Sketch: Blasphemy in the eye of the beholder, yes; but insults should be eternal

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The Independent Online

The fear expressed was that these new amendments would be produced the night before Third Reading and bounced through the House in an unconsidered way. This strategy works well in the Commons (remember the chaos on the Hunting Bill with its last-minute proposal from Downing Street). But the Lords have a more certain tread; old, and slow as tortoises, though they be.

The Bishop of Oxford made the point that religion is a part of people's identity over which they have no choice. Millions are "born into" a religion. Why that gives it or them the privilege not to be insulted or abused I don't understand. Hundreds, if not thousands of my lot - and probably your lot too, whatever lot you belong to - were burnt at the stake to hand down their beliefs. The only reason I don't hate Islam - or Catholicism come to that - is that I don't think about it. No religion in the mess, sort of thing. As Lord Avebury put it: "One person's faith is another's blasphemy."

Lord Avebury was arguing for equal rights for Islam under the blasphemy laws by abolishing all blasphemy laws. He made the elegant argument that in the 17th century with the interlocking interests of church and state, a blasphemy had the quality of treason; that's why it was treated so harshly. Times have changed. Rather more in Britain than in Pakistan, as Lord Avebury pointed out, but times have changed.

If you take these religions seriously you very properly hate unbelievers. Hating the sin but loving the sinner is too hard, because it is sinners who tempt your loved ones to perdition, where they'll burn on turning spits and have their genitals used as pepper mills and ... hang on, I've started to enjoy myself. Suffice it to say for Tony Blair to get legislatively involved in eternity is absurd.

Baroness Scotland said she was "absolutely determined that frivolous cases be not brought". But the police are getting wider and wider powers, and on a day-to-day basis will soon be beyond the power of Parliament. Even this year, a fellow was charged in Brighton with "wearing a T-shirt with an anti-Blair slogan". And a correspondent e-mailed me having seen police removing a man wearing an Abu Ghraib shirt to prevent "passers-by becoming distressed". The offence is not in the eye of the insulted, but in the eye of the policeman who believes someone might be insulted. And as we now know, all offences are arrestable.

We are creating monsters.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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