Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from the Vicar of St Peter's, Eaton Square

  I wish to make the following submission to the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences.

  1.  The Current Blasphemy Law applies only to blasphemy against the doctrines of the Church of England likely to incite a breach of the peace. In a multi-faith, and a highly secularised society, such a law can only be used mischievously, and I would suggest that it should be repealed. This in no way damages the established nature of the Church of England.

  2.  I do not believe that the current blasphemy law should be replaced with a law concerned with religious offences and I do so for the following reasons:

    (a)  how do you define what is religion? Obviously the mainstream faiths need to be included, but anyone can set up a religion and some religions are definitely not recognised by the Charity Commission, eg Scientology.

    (b)  most religions contain within them, sects which disagree among themselves, and sometimes one sect will claim itself to be the true faith and the other sects within the one religion to be false. Any blasphemy law would quickly find itself bogged down in this quagmire;

    (c)  all religions claim some faith in some god and these gods are not necessarily equally sensitive to blasphemy. However, some are extremely sensitive and Islam would be included among them. Any law against religious offences would rapidly become socially divisive and seriously threaten the Queen's Peace. The scope for religious and for social unrest would increase the racial and cultural tensions of this country;

    (d)  the recent case under the Blasphemy Law, Regina v Chief Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate ex parte Choudhury indicates quite clearly that the principle under English law of proving intention, would come under serious pressure, if when the subjective emotional response of those alleged to have been offended by a remark, would claim to be more important than the intention. The emotional pressure on the Courts to undermine this basic principle of English justice could result in disappointment, verdicts being handed down which either undermined the principle of intention, or rejected the subjective response as an adequate basis for bringing a blasphemy charge.

20 June 2002

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