Thursday, January 10, 2008

Brown to Scrap Blasphemy Law - a Christian Perspective

With Prime Minster Gordon Brown - the son of a church minister - signaling his intention to repeal the various laws governing the offense of blasphemy in the UK, an opportunity has arisen for thinking Christians (both inside and outside Parliament) to consider this issue carefully.

No doubt among some there will be a knee jerk reaction to any move to tamper with the law as it stands. The reasoning will be simple enough: blasphemy is a sin; sin should be restrained in society; repealing this law will remove this restraint; therefore, it should be kept in place.

Between that and an aggressive secularist perspective (all religion is superstition, etc) there may appear to be little common ground on the matter.

Thankfully, both the Church of England and the Evangelical Alliance have both signaled a willingness to engage in the debate and have welcomed the review in broad terms.

The fact is that the current law has not been used for decades and is unlikely to be used in the future. Furthermore, as the EA puts it, "God does not need legal protection".

Readers may be surprised that, as a committed Christian myself, I welcome the removal of this law for three reasons. Firstly, I have always been of the opinion (not shared, I know, by all believers) that the state should not have a punitive role in matters of individual religious belief or practice. This must surely include the act of blasphemy, which I take to be an area of religious (or rather, irreligious) practice and one on which the state should not legislate. My Third Stream Christianity blog records the history of those Christian groups over the centuries which have sought this separation of church and state and have taken a similar view.

Secondly, the offense caused when people blaspheme - and take my word for it, it is offensive - can be most effectively discussed and dealt with through informal mechanisms (for instance in the work place) and, in more extreme cases through existing legislation covering threatening or intimidating behavior, drunkenness and discrimination.

Thirdly, and perhaps most controversially, I do not want to see the blasphemy law extended to include other religions, which I would see as a restriction on my freedom to question and critique them. Denying that Mohammed is a true prophet, for instance, may be regarded as blasphemous by some. I can hardly ask for the liberty to express this view if I would deny it to others.

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