Letter: Blasphemy and the democratic right of dissent

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The Independent Online
Sir: Britain's blasphemy law is often misunderstood, as evidenced by your report 'Blasphemy law should be widened or ended' (10 September). The legal position (as quoted in Hansard, House of Lords, 23 February 1978) describes blasphemy as

any writing about God, Christ or Christian religion, or some sacred subject, in words which are so scurrilous or abusive or offensive that if they are published they would tend to vilify the Christian religion and lead to a breach of the peace.

Therefore it is not blasphemous to deny that Jesus was the son of God, but it is to do so in a 'scurrilous or abusive or offensive' manner. The value of the blasphemy law is in protecting society from a minority who crave notoriety. The law has a restraining effect.

It has previously dissuaded publication of a film depicting a nun having sex with Jesus on the cross. Such gratuitous vilification of belief must be discouraged. In doing this we must take care to differentiate between those who express different opinions to our own, and those who do so in a way calculated to cause maximum distress.

The Commission for Racial Equality's call for offences of incitement to religious hatred is very welcome. And it is proper that all who believe a religion should have equal rights under a blasphemy law. But defining what is, or is not, a religion will be difficult.

Christians note that Jesus responded to blasphemy by turning the other cheek. Many Christians do the same today in preference to burning books. It is surely part of loving our neighbours to argue for protection from those who would wilfully trample upon people's deeply held beliefs, whether or not we agree with those beliefs.

Yours sincerely,


General Director

Evangelical Alliance UK

London, SE11

10 September