- The blasphemy laws were repealed in England and Wales by Section 79 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. This came into force in July 2008.
- This followed a campaign by secularists which led to the then Labour Government abolishing the blasphemy laws. Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat MP at the time, said: “It should be seen as a secularising move, and with pride”.1
- The legal notion of blasphemy dated back many centuries in the common law of England and Wales.2
- From 1838, the law of blasphemy only protected the tenets and beliefs of the Church of England. Other Christian denominations were also protected where their beliefs overlapped with those of the Church of England.3
- There were only four reported judgments in the twentieth century. No blasphemy case was prosecuted in England and Wales following the passage of the Human Rights Act 1998.4
- Northern Ireland inherited Irish Common law, which included the offence of blasphemy. Because the Irish law of blasphemy protected the beliefs of the Church of Ireland, some have argued the offence ceased with the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869.5
- To date there have been no prosecutions in Northern Ireland for blasphemy. However, incitement to religious hatred is an offence in Northern Ireland, although it is rarely prosecuted.6
- In Scotland the last reported prosecution for blasphemy was in 1843. Since Scottish law, unlike English law, requires a personal interest in a matter for there to be any private prosecution, and since the state is unlikely to want to instigate a prosecution for blasphemy, a prosecution is unlikely to occur.7
The Bible clearly teaches that the name of the Lord is sacred. The third commandment states: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”8
Blasphemy laws protecting the Christian faith are an extremely important expression of principle – that Jesus’ name is above every other name. Paul states in Philippians:
“Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…”9
- Every society seeks to protect its most precious beliefs from public abuse. The blasphemy law was one part of the constitutional framework which recognised the unique contribution and status of Christianity in Britain (see Christian Freedoms and Heritage).
- A bona fide expression of opposition to Christianity had not met the legal criteria of blasphemy for centuries. The effect of abolishing the law in England and Wales was to legalise the most extreme and profane blasphemy against Jesus Christ.
- 1Quoted in House of Lords, Hansard, 5 March 2008, col. 1129
- 2Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 95-I, pages 46-47
- 3Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 95-I, pages 38 and 46-47
- 4Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 95-I, pages 10 and 46
- 5Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 95-I, page 56
- 6Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 95-I, page 56
- 7Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 95-I, page 56
- 8Exodus 20:7
- 9Philippians 2:9