Parliamentary attempt to abolish blasphemy law
From the National Secular Society

We have been working closely with our Honorary Associate Dr Evan Harris MP, who has identified an opportunity to challenge the blasphemy law in the House of Commons.

On Wednesday, 9 January, Dr Harris will table as an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. Below is a letter we have been working on with him which will appear in the Daily Telegraph signed by a large number of other Honorary Associates and prominent supporters of the NSS as well as some other worthy names from a religious and other spheres.

The letter itself makes the case forcibly:

“In the light of the widespread outrage at the conviction of the British teacher for blasphemy in Sudan over the name of a teddy bear we believe it is now time to repeal our own blasphemy law.

“The ancient common law of blasphemous libel purports to protect beliefs rather than people or communities. Most religious commentators are of the view that the Almighty does not need the “protection” of such a law. We are representatives of religious, secular, legal and artistic opinion in this country and share the view that the blasphemy offence serves no useful purpose. Yet it allows small partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters like the BBC and to intimidate small theatres, the printed media and book publishers.

“Far from protecting public order — for which other laws are more suited — it actually damages social cohesion. It is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets and thus engenders an expectation among other religions that their sensibilities should be also protected by the criminal law (as with the attempt to charge Salman Rushdie) and a sense of grievance among minority religions that they do not benefit from their own version of such a law.

“As the Law Commission acknowledged as far back as 1985, when they recommended repeal, it is uncertain in scope, lack of intention is no defence and yet it is unlimited in penalty. This, together with its chilling effect on free expression and its discriminatory impact, leaves it in clear breach of human rights law and in the end no one is ever likely to be convicted under it.

“The Church of England no longer opposes its abolition and the Government has given no principled reason to defend its retention. We call upon MPs to support the amendment proposed by Dr Evan Harris, Frank Dobson and John Gummer (tbc) tomorrow during the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill Report stage proceedings and for the Government — which rightly criticises countries like Sudan for their blasphemy laws — to give it a fair wind.”

If you support the abolition of blasphemy laws, we urge you please to write immediately to your MP, preferably by email, explaining you would like them to support Dr Harris’s amendment on Wednesday and add in your own words why you think this is important. You could perhaps use some of the ideas in the above letter, but please do not reproduce them all.

It is best if you can to contact your MP by email – you can find out details if you don’t know them from this website. This allows you to write to the correct MP by putting in your postcode. Whatever method you use to contact your MP, it is essential to include your name and full address.

If for any reason you would prefer to write by letter, you can send it by fax by phoning 020 7219 3000 and asking for the MPs office and requesting a fax number. Alternatively you could write to them at House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA, but in view of the urgency we would urge you to use email or fax if possible.

The NSS has been fighting for the abolition of blasphemy for the whole of its 140 year history. We have been working with Dr Harris on this important issue for some weeks including over the seasonal break assisting with research and soliciting the support of many influential individuals.

We know you will want to add your support.

Please act straight away, there is very little time.

The fruits of our efforts will not be clear for some considerable time as the Bill has to go through several readings in both Houses of Parliament, but we will keep you informed of its progress through Newsline. We are most grateful for your support.

Terry Sanderson


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  2. Hi,The cure of racist consciousness does not begin with recognition of the other’s legitimacy or removing our prejudices towards the identity of the other. Rather, these are the potential consequences of a self-examination protect: eliminating your prejudices towards your own identity, identifying the relation between your own traits and the “social character” and their function in a given social system, i.e. deconstructing your identity and yourself. For instance, dealing with sexual discrimination begins with renouncing our heterosexuality or masculinity as means of male chauvinism, etc. Today, while I was meandering among various texts like a hobo sailor (I learnt this phrase from Dylan’s 115th Dream) I came across an article written by Raya Dunayevskaya: the end of her article she introduces a mixture of speeches form a discussion on the women question. There is remarkably interesting views as regards the development of children in society. I think one of them is also related with the question of the right of blasphemy: “The child realizes only too well the difference between fantasy and reality. He can not lose himself completely in his imaginary world.”I think becoming an adult, integrating to society, involves the elimination of difference between the fantasy and reality. I mean the seven year olds who name a teddy bear “Mohammed” have more accurate perception than the enraged adults who are charging their teacher to countenance of blasphemy. Eric Fromm explains this maturity that mishmashing fantasy and reality as: “they must wish to do what they must do”:“In order to function well, every society must have as its members, individuals who will act, almost automatically, in the way that particular society requires; in other words, they must wish to do what they must do. If any of them had to decide, on a day by day basis if they want to be punctual or not, orderly or not, etc. they would probably decide, just as often as not, against the social demands, thus threatening the good functioning of their society. The individual must act almost automatically in keeping with the norms of his society; this means, that a social behavior trait must become a character trait.”As regards the question of the right to Blasphemy, I think it is a practical tool to decompose some part of our identity related with religion. It derides the perception of history as a fantasy and it is the proper awareness history: Mohammed is the name of a man who lived a thousand and a couple of hundred years ago, so what? What kind of a sensible human being really cares about the selection of seven year olds naming a teddy bear? Transformation of the subject begins with profanity towards its own history encased in clouds of holiness. Thus profanity is the real process of maturity as Freud said: “from the time of puberty onward the human individual must devote himself to the great task of freeing himself from the parents”, or as in Marx’s observation that the traditions of old generations haunts the brains of the living, in other words, the fantastic perception of history dominates the reality of present, or like Bob Dylan did once by refusing to work on Maggie’s farm anymore:“I got a head full of ideasThat are drivin’ me insane.It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more…Best Regards,Çagatay

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