Government action to repeal blasphemy law

The writers’ organisation English PEN today welcomed first moves by the Government to repeal the archaic offence of blasphemous libel. We will monitor the Government’s promise to take the amendment for repeal to the Lords in the coming months.
Having campaigned successfully for a free speech amendment to the Religious Hatred Bill, English PEN applauds this move to level the playing field, ensuring that members of all faiths – and none – receive equal protection. The single offence of Incitement to Religious Hatred protects believers, but not beliefs.
Lisa Appignanesi, President of English PEN, said: ‘Writers and the entire creative community welcome the Government’s decision to put their weight behind the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws in the Lords in April. These dusty and contentious constraints on free expression have hovered over us for too long. They have taken up expensive time in the courts and have pitted the many faiths in Britain against one another, while at the same time restricting creative freedom. Abolishing these obsolete laws will mark an important step in consolidating a secular and plural democracy.’
Anthony Lester QC, a Vice President of English PEN, said: ‘Surely the time is overripe to abolish the archaic and discriminatory common law offence of blasphemous libel. Neither God nor the established Church of England need protection against insult or ridicule by threat of criminal sanctions. Current law draws an arbitrary distinction between blasphemy in the theatre or in broadcasting, and blasphemy in novels, poems or pamphlets. Abolition will demonstrate a national commitment to the principles of free speech, freedom of religion, and equality.’

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