Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

Should existing religious offences (notably blasphemy) be amended or abolished?

  The Church would accept such abolishment if some other criminal provisions were put in their place.

Should a new criminal offence of "incitement to religious hatred" be created, and if so, how should the offence be defined?

  The Church views the proposal to extend incitement to racial hatred legislative provisions to incitement to religious hatred as commendable as defined in the Religious Offences Bill introduced in the House of Lords on 8 January 2002.


  1.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Church's) own definition of blasphemy accords mostly with that set down by the Common Law in Whitehouse-v-Lemon being that blasphemy generally denotes contemptuous speech concerning God, or concerning something that stands in a fixed relation towards God, such as His temple, His law or His prophet (see Bible Dictionary, Blasphemy).

  2.  One of the 10 Commandments given to Moses in the Old Testament provides against taking the name of the Lord God in vain (ie uttering an oath or making a promise using the Lord's name without valid purpose). This is therefore an issue which The Church takes seriously. In biblical times, the offence was considered sufficiently serious to hold a consequence of death by stoning (Leviticus 24:16) which penalty of death was eventually required of Christ on the basis of his own alleged blasphemy (John 10:33, 19:7.18).

  3.  Clearly the severity of the penalty has been gradually altered over the years to the current position whereby, albeit the offence still exists, no prosecutions are made.

  4.  As will be referred to under paragraph 3 below, the Church holds a fundamental belief that every individual should have the free exercise of conscience unless and until their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others (Doctrine & Covenants s.134:2,4). Whilst the Church was not wish to see the abolition of any offence that was in any way encourage, or even indicate a less harsh view, of blasphemous offences, the Church also fundamentally believe that God created all men equal.

  5.  The Church agrees with the Bishop of London (Official Report 30/01/02, col.332) that "The requirements of natural justice entail that this protection should not be limited to Christians. Other members of the British society who sincerely hold religious beliefs are members of the same society of Christians, and so should enjoy similar protection under the State's law." Whilst the Church is a Christian Church and so itself would benefit from the provisions, the Church would welcome a widening of the provision to include all religious denominations. However, the Church notes, Lord Avebury's comments (Official Report 28/11/01, col. 435) that extending such provisions to other religions would open a Pandora's Box inviting constant pressure for the (currently narrowly defined) offence to be widened.

  6.  In the absence of a suitable widening, and in an endeavour to maintain both equality and freedom of religion, the Church would agree with the Lord Bishop of Blackburn in his speech to the Lords on 28 November 2001, wherein he stated that The Church of England: "is not opposed to a review and a revision of the blasphemy law if something better can be put in its place." (See comments under Incitement to Religious Hatred below.)


  7.  The Church echoes the sentiments of the Lord Bishop of Blackburn that whilst such offences as those relating to disorderly conduct in churches and graveyards may "seem archaic . . . there is growing evidence in this country of disrespect for people engaged in worship and devotion, and indeed, of the desecration of sacred places.". As later stated by Earl Russell, if the abolition of such offences were to be approved, the Church would wish to see "protection against hurt that is liable to lead to a breach of the peace".

Should a new criminal offence of "incitement to religious hatred" be created, and if so, how should the offence be defined?

  8.  We quote the Church's position from a Declaration of Belief regarding governments and laws in general, adopted by unanimous vote at a General Assembly of the Church in Ohio in 1835 (Doctrine & Covenants s.134). That states:

    (a)  "We (the Church) believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.

    (b)  "We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life."

    (c)  "We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to Him, and to Him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the conscience of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul."

    (d)  "We believe that rulers, states, and governments have a right, and are bound to enact laws for the protection of all citizens in the free exercise of their religious beliefs; but we do not believe that they have a right in justice to deprive citizens of this privilege or proscribe them in their opinions, so long as a regard and reverence are shown to the laws and such religious opinions to not justify sedition or conspiracy."

    (e)  "We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens denied.".

  9.  In the application of this statement to the matter in hand, the Church comment as follows.

  10.  The Church believes that individuals will face eternal consequences as judgement for their actions in this life. However, it acknowledges the need for both ecclesiastical and governmental laws to protect peoples rights and liberties here and now. Internally, the Church would take disciplinary action where appropriate against its own members for matters relating to actions/behaviours against the Church's own beliefs and teachings. In some matters clearly the involvement of state law would not be appropriate where questions of the continuing membership of individuals in the Church due to their actions/behaviour were concerned.

  11.  However, the Church does on occasion suffer itself from unjustified persecution by others of its beliefs and members, and as such it would wish to be able to avail itself of the protection of the law to prevent such behaviour. For example, the Church has much literature published against its beliefs by various bodies and individuals, as well as vociferous preaching to persuade against its teachings. Whilst on most occasions the Church does not seek to stifle any genuinely held views on its teachings to allow free expression of conscience, if circumstances occur that led to such publications being so vehement as to incite hatred against the Church, or lead to violent or abusive behaviour against, whether by a group or an individual, the Church would wish to seek the protection of the law in preventing such publications or behaviour.

  12.  In such circumstances the Church would approve of the proposals for the incitement to religious hatred provisions. In an ideal world, such provisions would not prove necessary as men would not seek such persecution and antisocial behaviour towards others, regardless of their beliefs. However, the Church acknowledges that unfortunately:

    (a)  there will always be prejudice against (even law abiding/main stream) religions that give rise to unacceptable persecution; and,

    (b)  there will always be some whose expressed beliefs hold them to such anti-social behaviour as should not be permissible, however, the Church would not condone persecution of these groups.

  As the Church reads the currently drafted legislation it does not prevent justified criticism of anti-social behaviour.

  13.  The Church may express views contrary to such practices (and even support action to stop them?) but believes in free exercise of conscience and therefore where liberty/rights of others are not being affected, the Church would not seek to make condemnation of any other religion and certainly would not seek to incite hatred against any other.

  14.  In conclusion therefore, the Church views the current proposals in the Religious Offences Bill to extend racial hatred legislative provisions to religious hatred as commendable.

24 July 2002

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